Monthly Archives: September 2017

Another Day in the Life of a Camp Host

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My friend the camp host told me this story right after it happened to him on a Thursday morning. I didn’t witness it with my own eyes, but I’ve always known the guy to be honest.

The regular hosts of the campground were on their day off, so my friend was patrolling. He was responsible for cleaning the restrooms, preparing for the arrival of campers with reservations, checking in new campers, and collecting money from folks who didn’t have reservations so hadn’t prepaid. His arrival report told him someone would be checking into yurt #3 that afternoon, so he went over to unlock its door.

He opened the door after unlocking it and was hit by a terrible smell. Upon investigation, he found a pile of dog poop (his words) under the bed.

The previous campers had checked out sometime prior to 2pm on Sunday, meaning the feces had sat under that bed for four nights. The camp hosts must not have gone into the yurt to sweep the floor or otherwise check for cleanliness. The way my friend described the smell, there was no way anyone could have walked into that yurt without realizing something was very, very wrong.

What kind of person lets a dog defecate under the bed of a rented yurt? Yes, maybe the dog had an accident. I’ve been responsible for dogs who’ve had accidents on the floors of rented lodging. But what kind of person doesn’t clean up after their dog that’s had an accident. From what my friend said, there’s no way the dog’s person could have failed to notice what the dog had done.

It takes all kinds, The Man said, but I think leaving dog feces under a bed for someone else to clean up is unacceptable behavior.

Being the trooper he is, my friend the camp host removed the feces from under the bed and disposed of it properly. I think he even swept the floor before propping the door open to air out the yurt. It was just another day in the life of a camp host.

IRS

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I fell off the face of the earth for the first time in late 2009.

Up until then, I’d been a pretty good worker bee. I worked full-time jobs for most of my adult life. Even when I decided to work only part-time, I went through a temp agency. I filled out a tax return every year. I was in the system.

In 2010, I filed a tax return for the prior year and had my refund deposited to a debit card I bought at a supermarket.

I didn’t work a job in 2010 or 2011.

In late 2011, I ran away from my not very nice boyfriend. I lived with a family member in a major city, and I tried to find a job. I thought the only way to survive was to get back in the system.

In the spring of 2012, I had a job scoring student responses to standardized test prompts. I spent eight mind-numbing hours a day reading essays written by high school students and assigning each essay a score  based on a rubric provided by the state where the students were tested.

When that job was over, I fell off the face of the earth again. I was back on the streets, estranged from my family. I didn’t have a job for a long time.

In 2015 I had a van and was in contact with my family again. I was broke and remembered the job I’d worked in 2012. Taxes had been taken from my check. I’d probably overpaid. I’d probably get a refund if I filed a return.

I had to download the forms from the IRS website and print them out. I was able to get my W-2 online too, through my employer’s payroll system. I filled out the forms. Sure enough, the government owed me a refund. I mailed the forms to Texas and waited.

I’d asked the IRS to deposit my refund directly into my bank account. I checked my balance regularly, but nothing was added to it. Then the letter came.

The letter explained the IRS couldn’t verify my identity. I guess that’s what happens when a gal falls off the face of the earth for several years. Because the IRS couldn’t verify my identity, my funds would not be deposited into my checking account. The letter included a phone number to call so I could speak to someone about proving I was who I said I was.

I called the number immediately. I listened to a recording say all representatives were busy and no one could talk to me. The recording suggested I try again later; then the call was disconnected. I was not invited to remain on the line for the next available representative. I was told no lies about my call being important to the IRS. I was not thanked for my patience. Basically, I could call back later when the workers weren’t so busy, or I could go to hell as far as the IRS cared.

In the next few days, I called the IRS number multiple times. The only answer I ever received was the recording.

One morning, I decided to call the number as soon as the line opened, which was before normal business hours, at 7am, I think. Miracle of miracles, I was connected with a real live human person!

The IRS representative asked me many questions I couldn’t answer. What was my address when I lived in a collage town in the Midwest? What was my address when I lived in a big city in the Pacific Northwest? What was my address the last time I filed a tax return? The answers to those questions were at least five years and thousands of miles behind me. I’d quit thinking about those places long ago.

Because I couldn’t answer the questions to the IRS representative’s satisfaction, she said she couldn’t release my funds. She said I’d have to go to an IRS office and speak to someone in person. I asked her specifically what documents I’d need when I went into the office, and she listed them for me.

Luckily, I was in a major city with an IRS office downtown. I gathered my documents and my courage and headed to the office as soon as I could.

My first problem was parking. The building housing the IRS office had a parking garage, by my van was too tall to fit inside. I tried to nudge the van in, but I had to back up when my roof hit the bar demonstrating the height limit.

I drove around the block a couple of times until I found an empty line of metered spaces on the back side of the high-rise housing the IRS office. I had to turn around to get the van facing the proper direction, but finally I was parked. I was glad to find coins in my bag so I could feed the parking meter.

After walking around the building, I found the proper entrance. I walked through the door and was met by a guard and a metal detector. Nothing untoward was detected on my person, and I was allowed to proceed into the IRS office.

I walked into a small room with a counter. I was instructed (by sign or spoken word, I don’t remember) to get in line to take a number. I went to the end of a line stretching into a larger second room.

The second room was what I’d imagined an IRS office would look like. The walls were drab and unadorned, save for signs demanding all cell phones be turned OFF. The middle of the large room was filled with the sort of uncomfortable plastic chairs one finds in waiting rooms from doctors’ offices to the DMV. Cubicles lined the perimeter of the room; each had a sliding door in front in order to offer taxpayers the illusion of privacy.

The floor and the chairs were littered with yellow cards. I realized later they were survey cards. The IRS claimed to want to know if we were pleased with our visit, but we were all too suspicious to share our thoughts. What if the IRS didn’t like what we had to say and used our honesty against us? Most people there, it seemed, thought it better to leave the survey cards unanswered.

I got in line to take a number. While I waited, I turned off my cell phone.

Eight or ten people stood in the queue in front of me. One by one, they shifted to the front of the line where a woman behind the counter checked paperwork before issuing numbers.

Finally, it was my turn to step up. I fanned my paperwork out on the counter in front of the woman.

Where’s your W-2? she barked.

The woman I spoke to on the phone didn’t say I needed to bring my W-2, I said, panic setting in. What if the woman sent me away to get my W-2? Would all my time driving and parking and standing in line to take a number be wasted? Was my W-2 in the van? Would I have to drive all the way back to the house to get it? Why hadn’t the woman on the phone said to bring my W-2 when I specifically asked her what I’d need?

The woman at the counter said with disgust, I don’t know why people come here without their W-2s, but she handed me a number and one of those yellow survey cards.

I went back to the waiting area and sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair. I’d forgotten to bring a book, and my phone was off, as instructed, so I sat nervous and bored until my number was called.

Upon hearing my number announced, I stepped into one of the cubicles on the perimeter of the large room and slid the door closed behind me. I sat in a slightly less uncomfortable chair. The IRS worker behind the desk was a decade or so older than I am and was dressed in clothes as drab as the walls. Her demeanor was no-nonsense, but she didn’t seem unkind or grouchy like the woman behind the front counter.

She looked at my driver’s license and social security card, then back at her computer screen. She clicked her mouse a time or two. She asked me questions, which I answered as best I could. She clicked my answers into her computer. Her attitude was neither discouraging nor encouraging. This woman was a master of neutrality.

Once she asked all her questions and entered my answers into her computer, she dismissed me. My case would be reviewed, she told me. I’d receive a letter…

I left feeling dejected. I thought this woman was authorized to make a decision about my case. I thought she would decide I was who I said I was and tell me my refund was on its way. Sadly, I’d have to wait for someone else to decide.

In a week or two, I received a letter from the IRS. They weren’t able to verify my identity to the extent they were able to deposit my refund directly into my bank account. However, they believed in me enough to issue a check for the amount of my refund.

That was good enough for me.

 

Meltdown

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While the boys were obsessing over pocket knives, Little Sister was trying to pick out a souvenir of her own.

Pinecone earrings and bracelets sold in the mercantile.

To her credit, Bun Mom walked around the store with the girl and made suggestions. How about this cute pinecone necklace? How about the pinecone earrings or bracelet?

The girl picked up a $35 bobcat hand puppet. How about this? she asked her mother.

Bun Mom reminded Little Sister how they’d already discussed this souvenir shopping trip and how she’d explained each kid could pick out something small. The bobcat puppet, Bun Mom told Little Sister was not in her budget.

How about these dragonfly earrings? Bun Mom asked Little Sister. At $10.95, they were in the budget, and Little Sister could get her birthstone.

The mercantile sells these dragonfly earrings.

Little Sister spent a long time looking at the dragonfly earrings and the other items on the jewelry carousel, but did not reach a decision.

At one point, the girl was picking up and putting down and picking up again bear and bobcat bobble heads. These are only $6! These are only $6! she exclaimed over the $5.95 items.

You could get one of those, her mother told her, but the girl still hadn’t decided.

As the other family completed their transaction, Bun Mom told Little Sister to make her decision because she was about to pay. Little Sister ran around the store growing increasingly distressed.

I rang up Bun Mom’s t-shirt and Brother’s whistle and the Christmas tree ornament Little Sister had helped pick out for the family tree.

Anything else? I asked Bun Mom.

I’m paying, she called out to her daughter. Pick something.

By this point Little Sister was howling and whining and crying and stomping her feet. She didn’t seem to want something her mother said she couldn’t have. Her frustration seemed to be coming from not being able to make a decision.

She ran out onto the porch and her mother said she’d choose something for her.

I’m getting the pinecone bracelet, Bun Mom told her through the thin walls of the yurt.

No!  Little Sister howled. Not that, she wailed. Anything but that!

She came back into the store, and ended up picking out a pinecone necklace. I don’t know why she liked the pinecone on the necklace but hated it on the bracelet.

She continued to cry and ran back out onto the porch.

Bun Mom told me the girl had trouble making decisions and was overwhelmed by all the choices in the store. I would call “overwhelmed” an understatement. I think the girl was having a full blown meltdown.

We closed the store soon after Little Sister and her family and friends left.

The Man went outside to close the yurt’s window. When he came back in, he said, That little girl is still crying. He’d seen her run up to the store, look at the sign saying “Sorry, we’re closed,” and take off running while sobbing. She had probably wanted to exchange her pinecone necklace for something she’d decided was better.

I don’t think she’s enjoying her human experience, The Man said, and I had to agree with him there.

I took the photos in this post.

Knives

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The two women and four kids came in ten minutes before the mercantile closed.

The women looked so young to me, although they were probably in their early 30s and were obviously the mothers of the children.

The first woman who came in had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore those hiking tights so popular with athletic (and not so athletic) women these days. Her scoop-neck t-shirt dipped just enough in the back to show the tattoo of a lotus at the base of her neck. Her son was maybe nine, her daughter around six.

The second woman had loose dark hair and glasses with square black frames. Her shorts were quite short, and she wore white almost-to-her-knee socks with her boots. She had a sarong or a large scarf or an East Indian tapestry draped over her shoulders with a side hanging over each breast. At first I thought she was topless under the sarong/scarf/tapestry, but when she turned, I saw her black bikini top. She had two boys with her, one about five, the other probably ten.

They were on a souvenir buying expedition. The children were turned loose in the store while the women looked at magnets and t-shirts and Christmas tree ornaments.

I have twenty bucks! the littlest boy exclaimed, to which the boy who wasn’t his brother said, Who cares? (It soon became apparent to me that this boy had just about had it with the younger kid.)

The little boy’s mom said, That’s not cool to the older boy, but the grin on her face told me she thought it was all pretty funny.

It turned out that while the little boy was clutching a $20 bill, he had to share it with his brother. Each of the four kids had a $10 souvenir budget.

They circled the store eliminating possibilities. The walking sticks were too expensive. The t-shirts weren’t enticing (and probably too expensive anyway), and none of the kids were interested in stuffed animals.

The mercantile sells these wooden whistles carved to look like forest animals.

The boy who didn’t care about the little kid’s twenty bucks was the first to find his souvenir: a wooden whistle carved to look like a bear. He tried to get the other kids interested in the whistles too, but he was the only taker.

(How do you know it’s a whistle? his little sister asked.

Let her blow it, his mom said.

No! said the boy with concern on his face. She can’t blow it! We haven’t paid for it!)

The older of the brothers tried to convince the little one to pool their money and buy something they could share. He showed the little boy a breakable “I Love California” bank, and the little boy about had a fit. He screamed his negative feeling about the bank until—finally—his mother told him to chill out. I was beginning to think the little boy controlled the whole family.

Then the older of the two brothers saw the pocket knives.

We keep the pocket knives in the glass display case. People can’t touch them unless a worker hands them over.

How much are the pocket knives? the bigger boy asked.

I told him they were $6.95 plus tax.

Can I see one? he asked.

I didn’t really want to hand one over to the kid and have to take responsibility for whatever might happen, so I said, We’ll have to see if it’s ok with your grown up. The boy rolled his eyes behind his Buddy Holly glasses.

Bikini Mom was across the store. Grown up? I called to her. Oh, grownup?

She looked at me, blinking, as if I were an intruder in her secret dream world.

Can he look at a pocket knife? I asked her.

She said he could. She didn’t even walk over to supervise.

The mercantile sells these “razor sharp” pocket knives. We keep them in the display case until someone asks about them.

I pulled out the cardboard knife display and set it on the counter. The boy grabbed a knife and examined it.  His little brother watched with great interest.

I’ll get this, the big boy declared.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered.

You have to get your parent’s permission, I told them. No way would I have given that angry little brother a knife. I’m not sure the big boy was really ready for one either.

The older boy rolled his eyes at me again. Can I get a pocket knife? he called out to his mother.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered some more.

Bikini Mom said sure, they could get knives. She hadn’t even come over to take a look.

I turned to her and said, You know the box says they’re razor sharp, right? Of course, she didn’t know anything about the knives because she hadn’t come close enough to gather any information. However at the words “razor sharp,” she did walk over.

The little brother was still hollering, I want one too! I want one too!

The boy from the other family was very interested in the knives. He also wanted one. Bun Mom told him he was NOT getting a knife. He said he’d had a knife before…And it broke! his mother said, and you’re not getting one! Her tone of voice left no room for argument, and the kid dropped the subject.

Meanwhile, Bikini Mom and her oldest boy examined the knife. They couldn’t figure out how to close it. I showed them. Both moms started talking about safety and being very careful and this is not a toy. The little bother kept hollering about how he wanted one too, and I thought the big boy might roll his eyes right out of his head.

Bun Mom told her friend this knife thing might not be a good idea. Maybe she should consult with the boys’ father, Bun Mom said.

Emboldened by her friend’s caution, Bikini Mom told her boys they could not have knives. I was relieved and put the knives back in the display case.

The older boy followed his mother around the store, hassling her.

She must have said she didn’t want the little boy to have a knife, because I heard the big boy say, Then just tell him no! I could tell he was completely exasperated. I suspect the little boy was hardly ever told no.

The big boy finally wore his mother down, and she told him to go ask his father. Presumably, the father was on a campsite nearby because the boy wasn’t gone three minutes.

He said yes, the boy told his mom.

Even for your little brother? Bikini Mom asked.

Yep, the boy said. I wondered if he’d used the words “razor sharp” when he described the knives to his father.

The boys used their $20 to each get a knife, plus a box of candy and a pack of cheap plastic finger lights. The big boy immediately opened his knife.

How do you close this again? Bikini Mom asked.

I told her The Man would show her, and he did, but neither the mother nor son could do it.

If he can’t even close the knife, he shouldn’t have it, The Man whispered to me.

Can I carve with this? the older boy asked.

Absolutely NOT!  The Man told him. He told the boy the knife wasn’t made for carving. It would be dangerous to carve with that knife, he said. The Man tried to scare some sense into the moms by telling them about times he’s sliced into his own hand while carving and how now he wears a special protective glove.

You can only use this when you’re with your father, Bikini Mom told her boys.

Someone’s going to bleed tonight, I whispered to The Man.

He just shook his head and told me quietly that no one under 13 should have a knife.

I took the photos in this post.

Firefighter (Tracy, California)

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I had a house sitting gig in Tracy, California in late October of last year. I stayed in a comfortable house, watched a lot of Food Network and Cooking Chanel shows, hung out with two adorable little dogs, and worked on my blog and my book.  One morning, I spent a few hours in downtown Tracy.

One of the interesting things I saw downtown was a sculpture of a firefighter on the side of the fire station on Central Avenue.

Firefighter sculpture, Tracy, CA

There wasn’t any information about the artist included with the statue. It wasn’t until I did a Google search and read a 2003 article from the Lodi News-Sentinel that I learned a couple of things about the statue.

The artist who created this piece is Lawrence Noble, “an honorary firefighter with two San Bernardino County fire departments…[who’s] spent the past 15 years of his career specializing in large public sculptures, often of firefighters.”

According to the article, “Tracy reserve firefighter Terry Langley commissioned the sculpture on behalf of his nonprofit group Hometown Heritage…” The statue was originally carved in clay, then cast in bronze.

In the same article, Noble says, “The firefighters of Tracy are very, very lucky, because they’ve never lost someone in the line of duty… “What I chose to portray was just an honest day’s work, and the pride a single firefighter would take in doing the best job he could.”

This firefighter is a working class hero, much like the Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam. I like this guy. If you ever find yourself in Tracy, you can visit him too.

 

Devil Inside

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I’d been cleaning earlier in the day, and maybe the bleach I’d used had over-sensitized the nerves in my hands. Maybe it would have happened anyway, even if I hadn’t exposed my ungloved hands to bleach. Whatever the cause, I was in pain before the day was done.

That evening, I went over to the infoshop to help cook for Food Not Bombs. We made a potato dish and spiced it up with jalapeños from the box of produce Whole Foods had donated. I took on the task of chopping the peppers.

I’d chopped a lot of green bell peppers in my day. Before chopping, I always pulled out the membrane and the seeds because–well, that’s the way my mom did it. I figured jalapeños and bell peppers were basically the same, so I pulled the membrand and the seeds out of the jalapeños just the way I did to bell peppers. Wearing gloves to prep peppers never even crossed my mind.

By the time the meal was cooked, my hands were tingling in the way my lips might tingle if I ate spicy food. It was unusual and noticeable, but not altogether unpleasant.

I don’t remember if I helped serve food to hungry people that night, but as the evening progressed, the tingling in my hands increased to burning. The feeling did become unpleasant, then painful. After a couple hours at home, I tried to go to bed, but the feeling that my hands were on fire from the inside kept me from sleeping.

I still hadn’t connected the burning in my hands with the chopping of jalapeño peppers. I thought maybe it was the bleach from earlier in the day that was affecting me. In any case, the pain was in the form of a throbbing burn and seemed to be intensifying.

I’d already washed my hands with soap and water, which hadn’t helped one bit. I decided to soak my hands in ice water, which helped a lot–until I removed my hands from the liquid. When I took my hands out of the icy water, the relief I’d been feeling was replaced by pain worse than what had caused me to submerge them in the first place.

I didn’t know what to do. Not only was I in intense pain, but I couldn’t pinpoint the cause of it. I was starting to feel like I’d lose my mind if the burning didn’t stop.

I wanted to call my mother. I was still young enough to rely on my mother’s advice when times were hard. However, my mother was a fundamentalist Christian who was not thrilled by my pants-wearing, hair-cutting, alcohol-drinking, sex-before-marriag-having ways. I was honestly afraid my mom would tell me the fire I felt in my hands was the devil inside of me. Finally, the pain got the better of me, and I called my mom.

I told her about the bleach and the peppers (which I’d finally begun to suspect as the culprit). Thankfully, she didn’t mention the devil. She thought the peppers were the cause of my distress. The same thing had happened to her, she said. Now she wore gloves whenever she chopped peppers. The solution, she said, was to soak my hands in milk.

I was ready to try anything, so I thanked her very much and set out to implement the plan.

At the time (to control my weight and to save money), I drank reconstituted powdered milk. I didn’t know if the milk made from powder would have enough fat to relieve the burning in my hands. I was tired of messing around with remedies that didn’t work. I decided I needed whole milk.

I didn’t have a car, so I got on my bike and rode six blocks through the big city night to the Walgreens open until midnight. I bought a gallon of whole milk and transported it home in the basket on the side of my bike.

Once home, I poured milk into a big bowl and submerged my hands. I felt instant relief, but feared an increase in pain when I pulled my hands out, as happened when I took my hands out of the cold water. I kept my hands in the milk for a long time before I tentatively removed one from the bowl. Not only did the pain not increase, I feld a marked decrease in the burning I’d felt before. I returned my hand to the bowl and continued to soak both of them until the burning had decreased to a slight tingle. I rinsed the milk from my hands and went to bed.

In the morning, my hands were back to normal. Maybe the burning would have decreased naturally, but I was glad the milk had helped the process along so I’d been able to get some sleep.

After this incident, I was more careful when using bleach, and for years I wore latex gloves when chopping hot peppers. Even though I knew the cure, I wasn’t too keen on feeling such a fire burning inside me ever again.

 

Birthday Wishes

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My friend Laura-Marie is a kind and talented woman. She is s peace activist and a writer (of letters and zines and poems). She is dedicated to community, inclusion, and love. I’m blessed to have her in my life.

She visited me recently, and the topic of her birthday came up. I started thinking about what sort of gift I could give her. Last year I made a collage for her, and she already has a hat I made as well as bracelets and necklaces I created.

She and her friend Ellen Redbird have a tradition of sending each other poems for Christmas. I thought I could get on the poetry bandwagon and send Laura-Marie a poem for her birthday. With her permission, I’m sharing that poem today. I’m pleased with its playful quality, and working out the rhymes was fun for me.

Without further ado, here’s the birthday poem I wrote for my friend.

To Laura-Marie

on the Occasion of Your Birthday

Happy birthday to thee,

Laura-Marie.

Today is a day

to be joyful and gay.

I’m glad you were born

early one morn.

The work that you do

is loving and true.

Your zines help us all

stay on the ball.

 

My world is much better

when you write me a letter.

Your hugs are the best;

they give comfort and rest.

Your friendship I cherish.

It never will perish.

Have a great year,

you of long, curly hair.

Much love to you,

to you and your crew.