Postcard From The Ol’ West

Hi!  We’re having a delightful stay in the sleepy, sleepy, sleepy, sleepy, sleepy (KNOCK IT OFF, DORMOUSE!) border town of Deming, New Mexico.

People come here to be where it’s warm in the winter and cheap all the time!  It’s so cheap here, the K-Mart had to shut down because, well, there isn’t enough money for both a Wal-Mart AND a K-Mart in this town, pardner.

But it has roadrunners!  Lots of roadrunners!  I been trying to get a video to post for you, but those sonsabitches run like the devil was after ’em.  Stay tuned.

No tarantula sightings yet.  Guy I met yesterday says his dog catches the bastards, rips their legs off, and eats the bodies.  Says he finds piles of hairy giant spider legs he has to sweep up.  Put me in mind of the mess after a pile of wings.  With hair.

That’s about it for now.  Did I mention it’s cheap?   

I just rolled in after a few harrowing days on the road, a bit on the depressed side, everything is filthy and I have forced myself to rest on the Sabbath so that I can devote tomorrow to unloading my Silver Toaster so I can clean, clean, clean.  I hope to feel better fast.

I just found out why this place is so rotten with roadrunners.  The people here hand feed them with raw hamburger.  Meep, meep!

Gut Shot

If you’ve watched a few Westerns, you’ve probably seen some poor bastard shot in the abdomen by a Bad Guy and left to die a slow and miserable death.  He’s been “gut shot!”  It’s a low down dirty trick.

Sunday morning I struggled out and in and back out of a hazy nightmare.  I had been gut shot, and I was dying alone in the desert, far from water or morphine.  Plus which, the bad guy had tied my hands to a stake above my head, and my feet likewise.  I couldn’t even writhe properly!

As I surfaced from the dream, I tried to move and found I couldn’t.  My abdominal cavity was a simmering cauldron of deep ache.  Some lousy sonovabitch gut shot me!  Not the first time, either.  If I can ever manage to catch the motherfucker who does this, I’ll…I’ll call Marshall Dillon, that’s what!

Saturday turned out to be a sick day instead of the quiet restful Sabbath I had planned.  The special food and the bottle of wine remained untouched, while the special RV toilet paper dwindled on the roll.  It wasn’t an unusual sick day.  Not even much in the way of blood or other nastiness.  Just sick in the typical way, for me.

So I was caught off guard by the gut shot deal.  (Yeah, right, do I ever get any warning?  No.)  It lasted fucking forever.  I couldn’t even think straight enough to remember my treasured stash of tramadol.  Hell, even had I remembered it, I wouldn’t have been capable of rolling over, sitting up, standing up, and walking to the cabinet to fetch it.  I was gut shot.

It was good that the pain woke me at dawn.  That gave me plenty of time to lie there in bloody hell agony contemplating how I was going to manage to get my sorry ass to North Carolina in order to register my new RV before the dealer tags wear off.

About 11 o’clock I had to haul out of bed to walk and feed my patient dog.  She had crept silently and gently into my bed, knowing I was in trouble and careful not to jostle me.  I don’t know how she knows these things.  She just does.  She stretched herself out alongside me like a giant heating pad.  It was very comforting, while I was tied hand and foot, shot in the gut, to have a giant heating pad.

So that was yesterday morning.  I got on my way a bit after noon, and drove a few hours before finding a place to rest.  I dosed myself up with my special “tummy drops,” drank a glass of kefir with lactase, fed and walked Miss Dog, gave both of us our pills, and hit the rack.  This morning was early and weary, but at least not painful.

I chose a route that took me through a lovely part of Ohio, passing through familiar towns in the hilly country approaching the Ohio River Valley.  I have lived quite a few years in Ohio, and have some fond memories of baling hay in the Dog Days of summer, finding new ways to cook the extremely prolific patty pan squash that invaded my garden, and losing our trampoline to a tornado that wandered through our front yard, only to have it returned, somewhat the worse for wear, by a farmer who lived a few miles down the road, who found it in his field as he was out with the combine.

I couldn’t resist doing at a farm stand that offered fresh-picked sweet corn and other veggies.  I steamed up a couple of ears, buttered and salted them, and crunched into the Kandy Korn kernels with relish (not pickles, just relish), all the while squelching that annoying little voice that whispered, “Laura!  Laura, do you think this is the wise thing to do, so soon after having been gut shot?”

Oh little voice, do fuck off!  I need to enjoy my Ohio corn fix, since I didn’t go through Illinois this trip for that most toothsome of sweet corns: Illini Super Sweet (pronounced: ill-EYE-nye, named for the University of Illinois football team, developed by the agricultural college) (and since the University of Illinois is one of my Almas Mater, I have eaten at least one ton of Illini Super Sweet).  So at least let me enjoy my fresh-picked (not exactly today, but it was certainly fresh-picked some time ago) Ohio Kandy Korn, and I won’t do it again for a long, long time.

Just to round out the dietary indiscretions, I bought a lovely ripe tomato that was winking at me.  Oh, how I love a good ripe ‘mater with salt and sushi vinegar on it!  Alas, it was the agent of my discovery of the latest episode of…aphthous ulcer mouth badness!  Ugh.  In the garbage with the lovely ripe ‘mater.

Just so I don’t wake up sick or gut shot tomorrow, OK?  I won’t eat the green beans either.  Whoever thought that “eating your veggies” could make you sick?

King’s Whitefish

SOMEWHERE in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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Rain On The Brain

It’s raining again in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I left my precious Arizona, hot but at least high and dry, to trade in my trusty Jenny the Chevy camper for the 24 foot house on wheels that I ordered back in November. 

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I’ve been sick ever since my arrival last Thursday.  Stress is a bitch!  And for me there is nothing more stressful than moving, even if it’s from one mobile dwelling to another.  I get completely disoriented with all my personal shit strewn around.  Disorder breeds more disorder. 

Speaking of disorder, my dear doggy is completely discombobulated.  All her two favorite hangout places in our previous van are gone.  Like moi, she’s having to adjust to this new space and new lifestyle, all of a sudden. There’s lots more room for her to stretch out in the aisle, but I’ve configured the bed in a way that is unacceptable to her, so she is sleeping in the driver’s seat in protest.

I’ve been in awful, unremitting pain ever since I left the lovely dry Southwest.  Humidity kills me.  My spine is screaming; likewise my shoulders, hands, and hips: all the arthritic places.  And wouldn’t you know it, I had a Crohn’s flare-up start the day I moved my stuff from Jenny into my new rig (whose name might be Betsy).  I finally got the blood stains out of my brand new plastic toilet this morning.  That’s one of the lovely things that come with a Crohn’s flare: shitting blood.  I’ve got a sore throat, headache, and spent last night alternately chilling and sweating.  Fucking immune system, where are you when I need you?  Either running hot or on vacation, and sometimes both at the same time.

My sweet doggie came to see me about dawn.  She must have been listening to me shifting uncomfortably around in the bed, trying unsuccessfully to find a pain-free position.  She tried to worm her way into bed with me, but she is still a puppy, albeit a large one; and in the process of her thrashing around trying to cuddle up with me, she accidentally slashed my throat with one of her claws, and razored me up pretty good. 

My sleep deprived, paining self overflowed and I began to wail.  Poor Atina fled to the driver’s seat, and required a great deal of comforting for the rest of the morning.  She feels terrible when she hurts me.  She knows I am fragile, and tries her best to take care of me. But she is large and ungainly.  Accidents are bound to happen.

After applying first aid to my gashed and bleeding throat, I sat down with my new vaporizer and medicated.  I felt better.  I started the day.

Yesterday it rained.  Today it rained.  I’ve grown accustomed to places that don’t steam all the time.  I intend to make my way back West, where I feel good.  A friend called me a little while ago, from Glacier National Park.  He is not a formally religious man, but he said that Glacier felt to him like knowing God.

God and I have been on the outs for some time, so I think I’ll head over to Glacier and see what my friend is talking about.  I wouldn’t mind having a God experience.  My mind needs a jump start.

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This far corner of Montana is 1,713 miles from where I currently sit.  And that doesn’t take account of my planned side trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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The arrow is supposed to point to the Upper Peninsula.  The little blue dot at the bottom is where I am now. So the whole trip will be a big adventure with my new motorhome as I learn its ins and outs. 

I’m glad I temporarily have the ability to do this kind of gypsying.  I won’t always.  Finances and ill health will eventually clip my wings; but I’ll keep on as long as life lets me.  I’ll go as long and as hard as I can, and be gentle with myself too.

That’s my spiritual discipline now: giving myself permission not to do, but to be.  I get depressed.  I say, OK, I’m depressed.  It will pass.  I use cannabis as part of my medication regimen.  It works.  It helps me get through the depressions.  It helps me feel better.  Isn’t that the point of medication?

None of the meds we take for brain pain are “disease modifying.”  They don’t work unless we take them.  If we stop taking them, they stop working.

Cannabis will break me out of a suicidal depression.  It helps me engage with the world, with my environment.  I feel creative.  I can cook and clean up, take a shower, talk to people.  I don’t lie around crying all day.  I’m still depressed, but I’m more functional and less likely to hole up isolated.

Sometimes I’m just too sick though, like last night when I couldn’t even think well enough to pick up the vaporizer till my dog broke me out of it by slashing my throat.  Well, it was over the top, but it changed my state, so I guess it was all right.  Hope the wound heals.  The skin right there is awfully thin.

I hate it that I’m too disabled to work.  All I want to do is to be in my own office, healing the sick.  But I’m too sick to heal anyone, not even myself.  This mobile lifestyle helps me to not go crazy mourning my lost calling.  It’s a distraction, true, and that’s what I need.

It’s interesting to see how campgrounds are places of refuge for the mentally ill and physically disabled.  Of course no one you meet will say, “My name is Doris, and I’m mentally ill.”  Nope, she will say she has a bad knee, or something legit like that.  All the talk about getting rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness has done absolutely nothing compared to the speculation about the “mental health” of the various recent shooters.  Hell, if I were to tell some campground owner that I’m bipolar, you can bet they would be fresh out of campsites.  Mental cases not welcome anywhere…not openly, anyway.  But we’re here.  We are transient; we float from place to place.  We keep quiet and don’t cause trouble.  But we don’t disclose. 

When will the Mentally Ill Matter? 

Maybe never.  We’re the Invisible Minority.

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.

Tales From The Roadtrek #1

My favorite essayist, E.B. White, would often begin a story with a wandering tale about what he was doing at the moment of his writing: lying in bed sick, listening to the pigeons on the ledge of his New York apartment; lying in bed sick–even though he was a very active man when he was well, he was often sick, having a poor constitution–at his home in Maine, listening to the mourning doves in the tree outside his window, and so on.

I am one-and-a-half days into a two-day reservation at Hamlin Beach State Park, which is in New York State due north of Rochester, on Lake Ontario. I arrived near dark last night, having taken a bit of a tour through my old haunts here in this town of bitter sweetness. Here I did my hellish residency in Pediatrics, got divorced, got my first job as Director of a Pediatric Emergency Department on the merit of my performance as a model prisoner of the hospital known as The Gulag, where residents who were out of favor with the Powers that Were and Are Now In Their Graves–which is too bad, because I would like to give each and every one of them a piece of my mind for punishing me for being sick—were sent.

It was meant to be a punishment, and for some it was.

As for me—I was right at home.

The Gulag’s other moniker was the Knife and Gun Club. It sat right in the heart of violent gang land. Crips ‘n’ Bloods. Each with their own highly honed style of maiming and/or killing members of the opposing gang, if they could; and they did.

It felt just like Chicago to me. Many nights in my Upper Clark St. apartment, lovely and cheap, we would have to creep around on the floor lest we meet the fate of those who are struck by stray bullets during yet another gang war taking place in the park across the street.

I had been banished to the Gulag’s Emergency Department for seven months, so I simply moved in when the existing director bailed out. The Gulag was just my kind of place. I stayed and played for another two years.

The campground—we’re back to Hamlin Beach now—is at least a half-mile from the actual beach. That is just fine with me, because several weeks ago I camped at an absolutely dreadful campground on the Jersey Shore (New Jersey, not Jersey in England). The place had all of the unpleasantness of Eastern beaches, except the beach itself—for that, you had to drive twenty miles.

But no need. The campground featured plenty of coarse and painful sand that blew into everything, causing normally decent food to become dangerous to the teeth. Sand fleas, sand flies, fire ants, and, I discovered in a most unpleasant way, a medium-sized member of the spider clan that is perfectly camouflaged to look like the sand it dwells in. Well, not all of them dwell in the sand; some have moved into my camper, and now it is a game of “I squash you if I can catch you before you bite me, you little bastards.” I have no idea how to get rid of them without poisoning all of my tiny premises.

Anyhow. We return to New York State. The Lake Ontario beach is at least a half-mile from the campground, as I have already mentioned. Today I set out on foot, with my big sun hat and heavy multipurpose walking stick (the one my father, of blessed memory, cut from a rhododendron branch that had been climbed by a vine, causing the stick to be shaped in a mesmerizing spiral).

I found some pretty trails winding around toward the beach, only some of which were carpeted with poison ivy. The rest were nice dirt trails covered with pine needles. [After-note: did you know that eucalyptus oil is very effective at quelling the itch from poison ivy?  Good thing I happen to have some.]

After a delightful meander, I found myself on the strand of Lake Ontario. I mused on the fact that even though I left Rochester in 1992, Lake Ontario still lay sloshing in its glacier-carved bowl in the Earth’s crust, same as if I had never left. Fancy.

I watched the early evening swallows swooping and scree-ing together, something I have always loved to see. The gulls stood fat on the water line, gobbling the bounty of lake mussels–a bad creature imported on the hulls of the great ships that make their way from the Atlantic into the Great Lakes by way of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which have wreaked havoc on the lakes’ ecology by way of competition for nutrients. But the gulls love them. I was struck by how many more of them—mussels, not gulls—there seemed to be, judging from the mess of them on the beach, than there were the last time I was here, so many years ago.

My eyes kept straying to the water, and every time they did, I felt the familiar nothingness come over me.   Actually I didn’t feel anything. Only in retrospect do I realize what must have happened.

The breeze picked up as the shadows lengthened, and as the chill ran down my spine I turned to walk back to the campground.

I walked and I walked and I walked, and at some point realized that I had become disoriented in the process of trail-meandering, and had wandered too far to either the East or the West, I wasn’t sure. So I kept on walking straight, figuring that since I was on the road that bisected the park, I was sure to come upon a sign eventually.

Only problem was, my legs were tuckering out. Nowadays when I walk too far my legs start feeling stiff and weird, and they hurt. Well, they were hurting, all right, and I really did not want to keep on, and was thinking of sitting down in the grass on the side of the road; but since it kept on getting dark, that did not seem like such a good idea. It is better to be lost in the daytime than at night, don’t you think?

Not one single vehicle came down that road the whole time I was dragging myself along, grateful for my walking stick, which was by now doing yeoman’s duty by way of holding me up. I prayed and prayed for a park ranger, but unlike taxis in Jerusalem, which arrive if one prays sincerely, no park ranger responded to The Call.

At last the answer to my real-time prayers came along in the form of a Border Patrol Officer in a Jeep. I flagged him down and told him that I was looking for the campground. He grinned and pointed–the entrance, which was only a quarter mile away, in the very direction in which I was hobbling, appeared out of nowhere. Perhaps he was a wizard or a saint, and he either conjured it or performed a miracle.

Or, perhaps, had I simply kept on, I would have arrived at it in a few more minutes of agony and confusion, but Heaven sent this uniformed angel to relieve my mind.

(Still, I would have taken that Jerusalem taxi. At least I wouldn’t have had to walk any more.)

I still had a mile or so to negotiate until I arrived at my campsite, so I continued to put one foot in front of the other, trying to ignore the mounting pain and stiffness, until I finally reached my little motorhome and collapsed on the bed. My legs felt as wooden as my walking stick, although not nearly as useful.

Even now, hours later, if I try to move around much my feet go into painful scrunched-up spasms. One of these days I will get around to going to some doctor about this, if I can find one who is not a dimwit. if you are a fellow doctor who is not a dimwit, then a) this does not apply to you and b) please be in touch immediately.

Two Days Later

I think I must have had a bit of a hypomanic episode the morning I left Lake Ontario and headed straight south on Rt. 15 to pick up I-86 West. At 4:30 am my eyes popped open. I wasn’t sleepy.   Odd, even though I had passed out at 8:30 the previous night after the unplanned hike. My biological clock usually has me waking up between 8 and 9.

I have managed to wean myself off the dreaded Zolpidem (Ambien), and now instead of being forced to sleep for 12 hours at a stretch, my body seems to be tentatively investigating what her normal sleep pattern actually is. It’s delightful, really, to lie in bed with the lights off, listening to whatever is around me, whether it be tree frogs and whippoorwills, or semi trailer trucks roaring in and out of the truck stops I like to lay over in, like this one, two-thirds of the way toward the Western boarder of Indiana; and drift gently off to sleep, rather than literally passing out from drugs. Takes some getting used to, though.

Day before yesterday, I drove 400 miles, and enjoyed every bit of it. Blue skies, gorgeous mountains, farmland, Amish settlements, elaborate barns, simple houses.

Bivouacked at a truck stop, and was dismayed to find that unlike most of its kind, this Flying J did not have a special overnight parking section for RVs. Even the trucks were stacked up two to a space.

There were a few “regular car” spots over in a corner by the entrance of the truck lot. One space open there, better grab it. I pulled as far in as I possibly could, because my position was just beside one of the fuel lanes.

Yeah, OK, it sucked, but I was so tired from my hike and my long drive, I was grateful for the privilege of parking overnight without the dreaded 3 am knock on the door, lights flashing in the windows–fairly predictable if you park overnight just anywhere…so I’ll put up with a noisy, stinky truck stop where my sleep is unlikely to be rudely interrupted.

All evening I drifted in and out of sleep, frequently jarred awake by the ka-BAM, ka-BAM of the trucks running over a piece of broken pavement 5 feet from my van. I had to do some emergency self-NLP in order to abort the full-fledged panic attack I felt coming on.

Fortunately, the noise settled down and finally stopped at about 11. I learned something new about trucking: there are two kinds of drivers, the day ones and the night ones, and they change shifts at about 11 pm.

I marveled at the connection.

Before I had diagnoses and meds and sleep, I used to like to do my long distance driving at night, especially if the trip involved crossing deserts or long stretches of the Mysterious Midwest flatlands. One cornfield looks about the same as another to me, friends.

At night, the highways belong to the trucks. So many trucks come out at night: in places they’re bumper to bumper at 85 mph.

In a regular car that’s terrifying. It feels as if they don’t even see you–that they will just run right over you.

When I got my big Dodge truck and 33 foot horse trailer (with full living quarters) I got started with CB radio. Suddenly the highway exploded into a whole new dimension.

“Hey J.B. (J.B. Hunt is a trucking company), keep an eye on that four-wheeler (regular car) on your left lane. Looks like he wants to pass you.”

“Thanks, good buddy. You got anything good to listen to?”

“Wellll, just a couple o’ them Jeff Foxworthy tapes. He cracks me up!”

“Yeah buddy, he do! Hey, if I see you at the Flyin’ J you want to look through my tapes and see if you wanna trade for somethin’?”

“Sure thing, good buddy. Ten-four.”

“Ten-four.”

It never crossed my mind that there might be an entire subculture hidden from those of us who drive around oblivious in our four-wheelers. And then there is the overlay of a subculture of land-bound humans who sit up all night with their CB radios talking to the truckers. They have colorful “handles,” or nicknames, and each of them has a persona—and an agenda. Luckily, CB radios have lots of frequencies, some public and some that can be rendezvou’d upon by mutual agreement. Dialing my way up the channels in order to chat privately with a friend, I’ve also come across some highly illegal activities right there in traffic.

I did merit some special treatment from the truckers when I was pulling my horse-hauler. Since I always made sure to politely introduce myself, I was graciously received by the pack of whining 18 wheelers hurtling along around me.

“Hey, good buddy, OK if I slide in in front of you? I got to get off at this exit.”

“Ten-four, little lady, you go right on ahead.”

He flashes his lights when I’m far enough ahead to safely change lanes. I flash mine twice: Thank You.

I haven’t got a CB in this little rig yet. I feel kind of funny about it, being only 22 feet long, as opposed to the 120 foot length of your average tractor-trailer combo. I’m going to have to swallow my pride, though, especially if I keep on getting up while it’s still dark.

Today I felt like crap all day long. Maybe that’s because it rained so fucking hard yesterday that I had to bail out at the first truck stop I came to in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I had wanted to travel another couple hundred miles to an actual campground, get a really good shower—my rig has a tiny shower in it, but there’s nothing like standing under a stream of hot running water for as long as you want.

I saw a couple of little baby tornadoes forming in the clouds, and the barometric pressure was bouncing all over the place. What else could make one’s ears pop on solid flat land?  But I had the SiriusXM Radio pegged on Classic Vinyl, and if The Big One had dropped down out of the sky and swooped me up–well, I guess that would have changed my channel, all right.  But it didn’t, and here I am, still.

The only place I could find to park turned out to be right over a sewer drain, which was flooding a bit because of the rain, so I spent the night inhaling noxious fumes.

Maybe that’s why I feel like crap today.

Didn’t even make 200 miles. Didn’t even get out of fucking Indiana.

I’m on U.S. Highway 24, Westbound.  Flying J again.

Oh well. Isn’t that what this journey is all about?

Roll with the punches.

Enjoy Paradise.

“All Who Wander Are Not Lost”

The other day I sniffed the air, opened my eyes wide, and leaped…into a world I have always wanted to own.

Yes, own.

For years I slept in an ancient army-surplus mummy bag, stuffed with feathers that stuck into your skin and made sleep a chore.  It was definitely not waterproof.

Eventually I graduated to a fifth-hand Eureka pup-tent, which I still own.  I found it last year when some workers were taking down an old house, and it was stashed away in a corner of the attic.  I gave my truly amazing Marmot four-season mountain tent to my son, along with the really excellent down bag I haven’t used in years and years.  He does use them.  He’s in that part of his life.  One day maybe he’ll pass them along to his own daughter or son.

So I, longing to own the road rather than be owned by it, have acquired a small camper van.  It has everything I need in it, unlike the barn I have been occupying for the last several years.  It has a tiny but functional bathroom, complete with tiny but functional shower.  It has a large back seat that converts into a king-size bed.  A king-size bed!  Maybe I need another dog.  Noga would never forgive me, though….that mass of blonde hair is Noga.  She’s 13 pounds of fierce.

20130319_221249I have been asking myself, truly, is this the life you want?  To purposely NOT have a home?  And the answer is always a resounding YES!  I need a break.  I need a break from fucking everything.  To be able to pick up and amble my way to New Mexico, Colorado…Boulder, such an interesting patchwork community….and I want to see the Redwoods.  I lived in America for 54 years and never saw the Redwood trees in Northern California!  What’s up with that?  I guess it just wasn’t time yet.

If you asked me if I plan to be a gypsy for the rest of my life, today I would say no.  Tomorrow, who knows?  I don’t want to be constrained by time.  Geography is a bit of a challenge for me, as I really would rather be gypsying in Israel.  That, however, is not only physically impossible, it is outright dangerous at this moment.  This breaks my heart.  My constitution is not set up for war.

So, no, I have no idea where this is going, where and when and how long it will take me…but it will be a liberation for me, a throwing off of all obligation and responsibility.

I’m already finding others who live on the road–mostly people like myself, who have had enough of working their brains out for–what?  A fancy house?  Even a not-fancy house?  There was a time when a fancy or not-fancy house looked mighty good to me, when I was outside huddling in my not-water-proof feather bag.  Now people of my generation are saying good-bye, so long, farewell to permanence, and have formed a loosely knit family of choice, meeting up at campgrounds or by a lake, or any place they choose.  I guess we’ve regressed, hit the road again–the Woodstock Generation gone to seed.

I’m going to try it and see what it’s like.  I’m a solitary person–this way if I want a little human company, I know where to find it; and if I want solitude, well, that’s everywhere to be had.

Where I’ve Been

Dearest Readers,

Yup, you’re right, I haven’t been posting lately.

There are a number of factors that I hold responsible–of course, I cannot possibly be held responsible for my own shortcomings as a blogger  ;-).

I’ve been having a bout of the flu, and it seems endless.  I came down with it a week before my trip to Israel–I don’t remember telling you about the trip to Israel, so now you know–and it let up a couple of days before I left, so I thought I was out of danger.

The flight was magical.  I happened to be seated next to an adorable Jewish fellow, not too far from my age, and it seems that we have lived parallel lives.  We yakked for about twelve hours, sprinkled with power naps.  We exchanged communication details at the baggage claim, and I went to my usual Hotel R. in Jerusalem (actually the apartment of a good friend) and I am told that I hit the rack and slept for a week.  I believe that’s true, in retrospect.

I had all sorts of icky business-type things to do in Jerusalem.  My passport had expired, so I went to the Ministry of the Interior, took a number, and waited for two hours among the wheezing toddlers and Muslim women covered head to toe while their husbands sported bare heads, muscle shirts, and cutoff jean shorts.  Shoulder-to-shoulder, Orthodox Jewish couples all in black, National Religious couples in headscarves and colorful knitted kippas. Everyone jostled for baby buggy space.  Everyone looked vaguely worried.  Government offices make everyone worried, because your fate is in the hands of some clerk who might or might not be having a bad day.

At the bank, things were really bad.  I had a bill with the National Insurance agency that was normally directly debited, but having been in America for almost four years, I had lost my bank password, and could not obtain another without passing my debit card through their own ATM, so I was screwed there.  No possibility of doing it over the phone, either, since that also requires a password.  Oh, and they force you to change your password every six months, because they got hacked a few years back and are more stringent now.  That’s probably a good thing, but it trashed my bank account and all the other accounts connected with it.

So, when I finally was able to present myself to a bank officer, I found that my account was not only frozen, but had accrued more than four times the original debt in fees and interest.

I heard that one could get those fees taken off by hiring certain lawyers who specialize in such matters, but their fee was more than what I owed, so I decided to just pay it and cut my losses.

But whom to pay?  The bank officers said not at the bank.  The original source of the debt said not with them.  Who, then?  I did what every Israeli does when having banking issues: I went to a different bank.

Used to be that you could do that, just open another account, and then deal with the other bank in your own time, or not at all.  But now they have a centralized system for catching bounders like myself, who only want to pay their bills, past and present.

The new bank was ready to open me a new account, but wait!  My other frozen account came up on their computer like a zombie rising from its grave.  This new bank was eager for my business, though, so they were kind enough to tell me the name of the government office where I could pay my dept.  But they didn’t know where it was.

Frustrated as hell, and fuck if it wasn’t too cold and damp for ice cream (which usually soothes my inner savage beast), I trudged back up the hill (did I tell you that Jerusalem, and most of Israel, for that matter, is bristling with hills?) and fell back into bed.

After a reasonable nap I turned my energies toward finding that damn office.  First I searched for its English transliteration, which usually lands you on the Hebrew site of government offices, but no dice,  This must be a really elite office for people who have been out of country so long that their bank accounts have frozen.

So I hitched up my britches and switched my keyboard over to Hebrew, and voila!  Found it.  Turned out to be about four blocks from where I was staying.  And it looked like it would be open the next day!  You must understand, dear readers, that Israeli government offices, as well as banks and other official places, are not open according to what Westerners consider to be “normal business hours.”  For instance, most banks are open Sunday and Monday from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm, Tuesday 8:30 am to 12 pm and again from 4 pm to 6 pm.  Wednesday we’re back to 8:30 to 1:30, but Thursday mixes it up by only being open from 4-6.  Got it?  Me neither.

And it’s not homogenous among the various official offices.  You have to go to their sites and make a note of their hours.

So: having identified the location and opening hours of the office for bad debt payment, I dragged myself down there the next day and found it packed.  I guess there are a lot of debtors around, and you can’t tell by looking at them who they are.  I mean, I think I look fairly respectable.  If you met me on the street, you’d never know that I was a person who had her bank account frozen because she was a debtor.

But that’s in the past.  I paid my bill, received the usual sheaf of paperwork that I never look at no matter what language it’s in (dear readers, one thing you should know about me is that I never read instructions unless I have pieces left over, or get an alarming string of numbers on my computer screen, or have my bank account frozen).

The important part is that they gave me a piece of paper with official signatures, seals, and stamps on it, and declared my debt to be “mevutal,” cancelled.

I marched into my (former) bank with the papers, and the officer set busily about reinstating my account.  She looked quite downcast when I told her that I intended to close that account.  She looked so downcast, that I settled for putting the account on hold, but in good standing.  I made her PROMISE that my account would not accrue any fees, because bank fees accompany every transaction, even depositing money.  At my bank it costs 6.5 shekels just to make a deposit.  That’s about $1.25, depending on the exchange rate.

Well, then I had to go back through all those government offices and make sure they had received all the information on their computers.

That done, I went on to have a spectacular flirtation with the man from the plane, which ended with both of us fleeing in terror.  Luckily he has a cooler head than I, and prevailed upon me to stay friends.  OK, I really like him.  He is a magnificent guitarist, and we had a lot of fun playing together, he playing and I singing, in an empty underground parking lot.  Then we went to a dangerous park and smooched for a couple of hours.

“How long does it take to get to the Dead Sea from here?”

I thought he was asking just because he wanted to know, so I said “45 minutes, depending on traffic.”  It was 11 at night by this time, not much traffic, I suppose, although rock throwers are always a hazard, everywhere in Israel now.

“Let’s go,” he said in earnest.  “Come on, let’s go.  I want to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea.”

I have in fact seen the sun rise over the Dead Sea, and it is spectacular.  The Dead Sea is full of bromium, which combines with other chemicals to make bromide salts that are lighter than water but heavier than most air, so they hang in a pearlescent haze over the sea.  When the sun comes up over the desert hills, the bromide cloud refracts it and shatters it into thousands of sparks of pinks, purples, and golds.  Just gorgeous.  And bromide salts are a natural antidepressant!

Unfortunately, my health prevents me from staying up all night anymore, so I had to decline.  Rats.

So, as the old-time song goes, we “kissed, shook hands, and parted.”  Not for the last time, I am quite sure.  I hope.

A couple of days later, the remnants of the flu raised their heads and turned into bronchitis.  Luckily, I happened to be visiting a couple with whom I am particularly close, and alarmed at the dreadful cough I had developed, they dragged me to their doctor, and the husband braved the Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh (which has historically been friendly, but in these times you just never know).  Thankfully he did not get rocked or firebombed the way so many of my friends have, and the antibiotic worked wonders, and I felt better in a couple of days.

Comes the trip back to the US, and I was blessed with a whole row of empty seats, with no fascinating man to keep me awake.  So I slept until all the babies simultaneously woke up and began campaigning for their breakfasts.

On American soil again, I hit the ground running (driving, really), went and picked up my dog, and slogged home through the haze of jet lag.

Over the next few days I thought I was having a protracted case of jet lag.  I usually don’t get much in the way of jet lag, because I think my body has given up on the idea, having been schlepped through so many time zones, and it doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.

Unfortunately the “jet lag” turned out to be: either a relapse of the flu, or some other new, different, and wonderful virus.  I spend my days and especially nights alternating between racking chills and burning sweats.  I have threatened my body that if it doesn’t straighten up and fly right I will drag its sorry ass to the doctor.  It seems unimpressed.

Wishing all of you a healthier New Year than I’ve been having so far,

Laura

The Bed Bug Chronicles Parte The Seconde

…in which we continue our woeful tale of The War of the Bed Bugs.bed-bugs

The Big Shot Professional exterminator made off with my infested camping cot and 200 shekels (approximately 65 US Dollars), leaving me with a completely empty apartment…or was it?  I strongly suspected that in folding up said cot, he had dumped some unwanted guests onto the quarry stone floor.  There were deep gaps between the quarries, which could harbor anything.

So I got out the bleach.  In Israel we don’t have wimpy 1% sodium hypochlorite bleach like we do in America.  We have 5%, which burns through rubber gloves, shreds clothing, and makes your eyes water as soon as you open the bottle.

I dumped enough into a bucket of water to kill anything, or so I thought, and swilled it around the stone floor, letting it fill the cracks between the stones.  Then I turned on the fan and got out of there.

After a severe coughing spell that threatened to activate my stress incontinence, I ambled over to my favorite coffee den in the Shuk to think things over and decide what my best course of action was.  Actually, my choices were few and none.  I couldn’t go back to Ron’s, seeing that he was also infested; and I really couldn’t visit myself on any of my other friends because of the risk of contagion: the little beasts conveniently travel in the seams of your clothes, the soles of your shoes–not to mention your luggage.  Damn, I was stuck.

I hit upon one good idea: the apartment came with a flat tarred roof that extended over three buildings.  I had access to it via an Arab-built wooden ladder that my landlord, a contractor, had doubtless saved from one of his many construction projects.  In Israel, the construction industry is almost exclusively run by Arabs. Instead of scaffolding they often use purpose-built ladders, which are abandoned, in many instances, after they are no longer needed.  They are sturdily built, reminding me of the ladders that the Pueblo Indians use for getting up and down the levels of their dwellings.  Mine was perfect for getting up to the roof.

There are two things that reliably kill bed bugs: dry heat above 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and prolonged freezing temperatures.  So after my coffee I went next door to the variety store and bought a bunch of black plastic bags, the better to cook bugs in.  I went home and loaded my clothes and anything else that could take high heat into these bags and hauled them up to the roof.  Also my luggage and my dog’s doggie travel carrier.  I must have made 25 trips up and down that damn ladder.  Let’s not forget that I was still suffering from the concussion I got from taking one on the chin, and it was becoming apparent that I had “done something” to my right shoulder in the same wreck, so I had to be extra careful on my excursions up and down the ladder.

Did I mention that the ambient temperatures were hovering around 40 Centigrade/104 Fahrenheit?  Well, they were.  Good for killing bedbugs, bad for people on Lithium.  I was feeling it.

Finally everything I owned was either on the roof baking or in the freezer freezing.  I wondered if my external hard drive would survive freezing, but since it certainly would not live through broiling I thought the freezer was the better risk.

As I stood there wheezing in the bleach fumes, it occurred to me that I no longer had a bed.  My Israeli mattress, a 3 inch thick strip of hard foam, was on the roof baking.  The Professional Expert Exterminator had pronounced that to be unnecessary, but I was taking no chances.

Under normal circumstances, I would have simply tossed the mattress on the floor until I could get some semblance of a bedstead; but Jerusalem quarry stones are not only very hard, but uneven and pointy in many places.  Not only that, but the proximity to my bleach job might melt the foam, and kill me via asphyxiation.

Then came one of those “lightbulb moments.”  Indeed, I did have a bedstead!

Three years ago, I was forced by family circumstances to give up my long-term lease on a beautiful house in the same neighborhood.  A very sweet couple moved in, and I had left them my bed; but they had their own, and they were storing mine–for when I returned to Jerusalem for good.

I called them, and within the hour had my old bed back.  Tears of gratitude welled in my eyes–or was it just from the bleach?

Nightfall, and I hauled myself back up the ladder for the last time that day, to fetch my mattress down.  Something nagged at me, paranoia perhaps, that I should run down to Davidka Square and buy myself a brand new mattress wrapped in plastic, but then again I had had the cover off of this one and inspected all the seams for signs of bed bug poo, and eggs, and all of the signs and symptoms of infestation, and found none.  I told myself firmly to have confidence in my own expertise, and plunked the mattress on my good old bedstead.

This wasn’t just any bedstead.  I had bought it in 1989, just after my ex-husband moved out and took every stick of furniture in the apartment with him (he was moving into an unfurnished apartment, you see), including the bed.  So I invested in this wonderfully simple bedstead made of hardwood slats, that came apart and went together in a few minutes’ time, perfect for the young upwardly mobile professional lifestyle.

The first night was blissfully bugless.  I awoke, anxious, and checked myself over for new bites; and finding none, rejoiced.  Even my dog was scratching less.  She is allergic to everything, and, as I found out later, bed bugs feed on anything with blood in it, including warm-blooded animals.   I took her food out of the freezer, and took myself out for Israeli Breakfast to celebrate.  If you haven’t had Israeli Breakfast, you haven’t had breakfast.  I will tell you all about Israeli Breakfast another time.

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that the third morning dawned with a peppering of itchy welts.  I freaked out.

I called Sammy.

Sammy showed up the next morning with a backpack sprayer and a respirator mask.  Now, I thought with satisfaction, we’ll get something done about this.  I stood guard over his van, which he had left in a tow-away zone, while he did his thing.  He came running out of the apartment followed by a noxious white cloud, coughing through his mask.  Jesus, I thought, what the hell did he spray in there?  I didn’t care, as long as it killed the damn bugs.

I was told to abandon the place for three hours, and then wash the floors very well.  VERY well, he said, looking significantly at Noga, my dog.  Sammy raises champion Pekingese, and knows what dogs can handle and what they can’t.

I left the apartment to air out for eight hours instead of three, just for good measure; then I went after the floors with a vengeance.  I washed them VERY well.  But I did NOT wash the bedstead.  I wanted anything lurking in there to be DEAD.  And so it was that as I was inspecting the bed, a very sick bed bug tottered out of one of the joints of the headboard.  It looked like its shell was melting.  Ugh, and GOOD.  Death to you!  Death!  And then another one, fat with my blood, dragged itself out from beneath one of the legs.  Oh. My. God.  Even now the hair stands up on the back of my neck to think of….what it…..had certainly done….

To be continued……