Monthly Archives: February 2018

10 Places for Blacktop Boondocking

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Boondocking is also known as dry camping (or primitive camping when folks are out on public land). My friend Coyote Sue calls it blacktop boondocking when she’s dry camping in a parking lot. Blacktop boondocking is what folks do in a city or town so they don’t have to pay to stay over and see the sights. People who’ve been on the road for a while may have already heard of all the options I’m going to give, but for folks who are new to this life and aren’t sure where to stay for free in or near urban locations, here are ten places you might want to consider for blacktop boondocking.

#1 Wal-Mart  By now surely everyone on the road knows that Wal-Mart is often an option for overnight parking for van dwellers and other nomads. Be aware that not every Wal-Mart allows overnight parking. Each store sets its own policies, and some city ordinances prohibit blacktop boondocking anywhere in town. Call ahead and ask permission before you set your heart on overnighting at Wal-Mart.

#2 Truck stops/Travel Centers  Truck stops (sometimes known as “travel centers” in an attempt to avoid an image of shadiness) are by far my favorite places for blacktop boondocking. Truck stops have everything a nomad needs: gasoline or diesel, restrooms, coffee, snacks, showers, soda, sometimes even WiFi. People come and go all day and night and even hang out for hours at a time to get some rest or wait for their appointed pickup or delivery time. A van or RV parked at most truck stops overnight is not going to look weird at all. If you’re nervous about blacktop boondocking at a travel center, call ahead and get permission. I’ve stayed at truck stops across the country and only a handful have said no when I asked to stay. I’ve never once been asked to leave a truck stop.

addiction, bet, betting#3 Casinos  I don’t stay in casino parking lots very often, but Coyote Sue does frequently. Not only does she have an actual Class C, while I only have a van, she goes in and does a little gambling and maybe eats at the buffet. I don’t enjoy gambling, so I don’t go to casinos for fun. I could probably blacktop boondock in at least some casino parking lots, but I usually find another place to stay. However, if you enjoy what casinos have to offer, why not spend the night?

Some casinos offer actual RV parks and do charge for overnight parking with all the amenities. If you want to stay in a casino’s parking lot and not pay for hookups, call ahead to make sure you will be allowed to do so.

#4 Rest areas  Interstates offer rest areas, as do some major highways. You can look at a map of interstate rest areas online or look for the symbol for them on your paper atlas. Different states have different laws concerning overnight parking and length of stay at rest areas, so do your research before you plan to blacktop boondock at a rest stop.

#5 Cracker Barrel Restaurants  I’ve never stayed overnight at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, but it’s mentioned as an option often enough to make me think the corporate office is ok with travelers blacktop boondocking in their parking lots. Again, individual restaurants may make up their own rules, and local ordinances may vary. Call ahead for permission when you’re planning your route. If you need dinner anyway, and it’s in your budget, go in and eat.

#6 Bass Pro Shop and Cabela’s  Both of these chains of huge sporting goods stores are mentioned as places were RVers can stop for the night. I’ve never stayed at either. The same caveats I gave for Cracker Barrel apply here: rules at individual stores may vary, possibly because of local ordinances. Call ahead.

#7 Motel Parking Lots  I don’t frequently blacktop boondock in motel parking lots, but I have done it in a pinch when I was too tired to drive farther and had no other options. If you’re going to sleep in your rig in a motel parking lot, I recommend you pick a chain, but not a fancy one. You want to find a parking lot that’s big enough so your rig doesn’t stand out. Don’t park right in front of a room and consider staying out of sight of the office. Don’t get in anyone’s way, and the sleepy desk clerk is less likely to bother you. You could also try asking permission and/or slipping the desk clerk a few bucks.

art, beverage, black and white#8 Denny’s Restaurants  Again, this is a place I have parked overnight before but only in a pinch. I wouldn’t count on every Denny’s in every town being an option. Once I had luck parking between a Denny’s and a 24-hour supermarket with the thought that if anyone was paying attention, they would think I was either in one place or the other. Another time, I caught a few winks at a Denny’s that had a parking lot big enough that I was able to park on the outer edges and not call attention to myself. In both cases, in the morning I went inside and had breakfast, or at least a cup of coffee.

#9 24-Hour Grocery Stores  I don’t know of any supermarket chains that have a corporate policy of allowing travelers to park overnight, but stealthy boondockers might be able to get away with spending the night in a grocery store parking lot depending on the climate of the town. I’d suggest parking on the outskirts of the parking lot so anybody paying attention will think the vehicle belongs to an employee on the graveyard shift.

Cars in Illuminated City at Night#10 Residential Areas  While you probably won’t be in a parking lot if you’re spending the night in a residential area, you’ll still be on the asphalt, so I think it counts as blacktop boondocking. The trick to overnighting in a residential area is to find a spot where other vehicles are parked on the street. If you are the only vehicle parked on the street, nearby homeowners may get suspicious and call the cops. Also, don’t block any driveways. I know from experience that it’s not a good idea, even if someone else who lives on the street says it’s not a problem.

If you’re in a college town, try parking on an off-campus street where parking is legal. You may have to park early in the evening or afternoon to get such a spot, and it may be easier to blend in if you’re in a car, minivan, or passenger van.

Try parking on the street near a large apartment complex. Often large apartment complexes don’t have room in the official parking area for all residents and visitors, and people end up parking on the public streets close to the complex. If you can’t find a large apartment complex, look for duplexes or four-plexes where even some of the residents can’t fit in the driveway. In a perfect scenario, you’ll find a street with enough vehicles parked so yours doesn’t stand out but not so crowded that you’re taking a coveted spot from someone who actually lives there.

The Rubber Tramp Artist is making suggestions here, but is not responsible for your well-being and safety. Only you are responsible for your well-being and safety. When in doubt about where you can blacktop boondock safely and legally, call ahead and ask permission.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/addiction-bet-betting-casino-5258/https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-beverage-black-and-white-breakfast-266174/ and  https://www.pexels.com/photo/cars-in-illuminated-city-at-night-257711/.

Our Lady

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During my years as a Catholic, the Blessed Virgin Mary was usually off to the side. She was the mother of Jesus, of course, but she only got attention during Christmas (happy) and Easter (sad) and in the story at the wedding where she tugged on her son’s robe and asked him to do something about the wine situation. Like most women in the Catholic Church, she was a helper who got second billing.

I hadn’t been in a Catholic church for years. It was the late 90s, and I was in a long-distance relationship with a Texan. The last time I’d been in a Catholic church had probably been six years earlier while on an art tour in Venice, Italy. The last mass I’d been to was probably the one for my cousin’s wedding a year or two before the trip to Europe. It had been a long time.

My Texan was an activist and during one of my infrequent visits, he was participating in a reenactment of a massacre of Zapatistas in Oaxaca, Mexico. I knew about the reenactment before my visit, but my Texan hadn’t told me it would take place on the grounds of a Catholic church, so the location was a surprise. Even more surprising was when the reenactment turned into a precession that proceeded into the church.

Oh yeah, my Texan’s comrade said to me with a shrug, there’s a mass.

A mass? I wasn’t prepared for a mass.

The comrade thought we should go inside and join the mass. Not knowing what else to do, I followed him in.

The priest was already in front of the congregation when we walked in. Someone was already doing the day’s first reading from the missal. Instead of slipping into the back pew as I would have done left to my own devices, the comrade walked all the way up the aisle to the very first pew. I could have ducked into a pew anywhere along the way, but for some reason that must have made sense at the time, I followed him all the way to the front.

He grew up Catholic, I reasoned. He knows what he’s doing.

He hadn’t grown up Catholic, I found out later. Sure, he’d grown up in Central America, but contrary to my assumptions, that didn’t mean he came from a family of practicing Catholics.

In my Catholic family, we did not show up late to mass. If we stood to arrive even a few minutes after the ceremony started, our plans would change abruptly to include a later mass. Had my mother ever arrived late for mass and been forced to enter the church, she would have scurried into the first available pew. Nothing could have made her walk all the way to the front, flaunting her tardiness in front of God and everyone.

I remember a few other things about the mass that day in Texas in addition to bringing shame on my mother by advertising my late arrival. I remember the priest (an ostensibly white man with white hair) speaking a mixture of English and Spanish to the congregation of predominately Mexican descent. I remember my Texan’s Irish comrade chastising me and the comrade I followed in for sitting when everyone else knelt, and I remember the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In every (and I mean every) other Catholic church I’ve been in, Jesus on the cross was front and center. Maybe Mary was on one side or the other, but often enough, she was in some little alcove in the back. In this church, Mary was up front, in the middle, larger than life and looking serenely on us all. Jesus on the cross was relegated to a supporting role presiding over where the choir usually sat.

I made this devotional called “Our Lady.” I can’t guarantee it will glow like this once you get it home.

I was shocked and pleased. I wondered what it would mean to attend a church where the Mother stood peacefully over the congregation week after week, where folks didn’t have to stare at bloody Jesus for an hour every weekend. How different my Catholicism might have been had I belonged to a church where the feminine was in the forefront.

Interior of “Our Lady of the Tiny Box”

Even though I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for decades, I still have a soft spot for the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the Catholic representation of the Mother after all. She loves us and takes our petitions to Jesus. There are no stories of Mary being wrathful, only stories of her being loving and kind and concerned.

Exterior of “Our Lady of the Tiny Box”

Recently, I made some art featuring the BVM. I guess I’m getting back to my roots. “Our Lady of the Tiny Box” was spoken for almost as soon as I posted a photo of it on Facebook, but “Our Lady,” a tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe made from an Altoids tin, is still available for purchase for only $18, including shipping. With this little devotional, you can bring the peace of the Mother into your life.

 

My Religious Upbringing

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Priest Holding HostiaI grew up Catholic. My parents were Catholic too, as were their parents before them. As far as I know, my ancestors were Catholic all the way back to France and were kicked out of Nova Scotia in 1755 at least partially due to their Catholicism.

I was baptized in a Catholic church by a Catholic priest when I was a few days old. I went to a Catholic school for prekindergarten and admired the older girls in kindergarten and first grade who wore pleated plaid skirts and white shirts with buttons. Preschoolers were too young for uniforms; we wore civilian clothes to class, but I hoped someday I could wear a cute school uniform too. Alas, my family moved, and I got the rest of my mandatory education in public schools.

In first grade, my religious indoctrination began in earnest. Every week of the school year, I attended what my parents called “catechism” and the church referred to as “religious instruction.” Each week, the teacher (always a woman) taught us what we needed to know in order to grow up to be good Catholics.

In the town where I went to elementary and middle school, kids made their confirmation in tenth grade. Confirmation is the Catholic sacrament of choosing to be Catholic. Up until Confirmation, a kid’s parents and godparents make religious choices for him or her, but at Confirmation, the young person chooses to continue life as a Catholic. After accepting Catholicism and being confirmed, a person is seen as an adult in the eyes of the Church. It seems ridiculous to me that a 15-year-old could be capable of making an informed choice about something as important as religion, but that’s the way it worked in our community.

My family moved a few weeks into my tenth grade year. Somehow in the hubbub of my dad starting a new job and my mom getting me and my sibling enrolled in our new schools, our parents didn’t enroll us in religious training. Maybe they looked into it, and the new church didn’t want us starting late. Maybe money was tight and my parents couldn’t afford tuition. In any case, we sat out catechism that year.

Our family still went to mass, but it wasn’t the big deal it had been before we moved. In our old community, my Cathedral Interior Religious With Benches Empty in Backdad sang in the church choir; later, my parents sometimes read the Liturgy of the Word at mass. Even though my parents weren’t huge movers and shakers in the group, our family was part of the community. In the new, much larger parish, no one seemed to care if we attended mass.

I don’t know how we got the information, but we learned that in our new parish, kids made their confirmation and became adults in eighth grade instead of tenth. I was not only missing out on preparation for my confirmation, I was already behind.

I suppose the next school year, 16-year-old me could have joined the 12 and 13-year-olds in confirmation preparation, but my parents never pushed the issue. Perhaps because it was a sacrament of choosing, my parents were waiting for me to take the initiative and ask them to help me get confirmed. Perhaps their own doubts about our religion had crept in far enough to make them hesitant to insist I get with the Catholic program.

I had my own doubts about the Catholic Church. I wasn’t keen on the way men got to be movers and shakers (priests), while women were stuck in helper roles (nuns). No one had been able to give me a good reason why women couldn’t be priests too. At that point, I hadn’t decided to quit being Catholic, but I knew I didn’t want to make the adult decision of being all in.

In any case, I wasn’t confirmed that year; I wasn’t confirmed the next year; I wasn’t confirmed ever.

Our whole family attended mass less and less frequently. No one saw to it that I went to confession (or “the sacrament of reconciliation” as the Church had started calling it by the time I came along). My sibling and I were busy with school activities, and my parents’ marriage was crumbling. Maybe my parents felt getting everyone to church was no longer worth their energy. (I remember once dragging my feet as the family was getting ready to go to the new church, and my mother said, Fine! Stay home if you don’t want to go! Would I actually be allowed to skip church and stay home alone? I didn’t find out because I was scared of the passive-aggressive repercussions I might face if I took my mother up on her offer. )

I don’t remember the last time my family attended mass together. Somehow my life as a Catholic ended with a fizzle instead of a bang.

Imags courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/priest-holding-hostia-161081/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/cathedral-interior-religious-with-benches-empty-in-back-218480/.

10 Fundamentals for Boondockers

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So you want to save money by camping in a place where you don’t have to pay? Perhaps you want to see natural beauty that might not be present in a private campground. Maybe you need a little more elbow room than you can get in a commercial RV park that’s more like an RV parking lot. For free camping in scenic locations with plenty of space between you and the next rig, you might want to try boondocking (also known as “dry camping” or “primitive camping”).

If you’ve never been boondocking before, it might seem complicated. Where can you camp legally and safely? How can you find the good spots? Should you stay in a town or venture into the wilderness? Have no fear! In this article, I’ll cover ten fundamentals of boondocking so you can make decisions about where to go. I’ll also give you suggestions that will help you have a great time once you get where you’re going.

#1 Before you head out, determine how long you want your boondocking experience to last. An overnight stop on the way to somewhere else will be different from a relaxing two-week stay in nature.

#2 For an overnight stay, decide on the town where you want to take a break and look into what businesses in the area allow overnight parking. Businesses to check into include Wal-Mart; truck stops (Flying J, Pilot, Love’s, TravelCenters of America, Petro, and Bosselman, plus independently owned truck stops); Bass Pro Shop; and Cracker Barrel. Always call a business ahead of time and ask if overnight parking is allowed. If you’re going to be told no, it’s better to know ahead of time than to wake up to a knock on your rig at 2am.

If you can’t find a business that will allow you to park overnight, check for free camping in town or county parks. I’ve camped for free at the county fairgrounds in Blue Earth, Minnesota and the town park in Vermillion, South Dakota.

If all else fails, look online or in your atlas (you are traveling with a paper atlas, right?) for highway or interstate rest areas. Some states have limits on how long folks are allowed to stay in rest areas (when I was traveling in California in 2012, it was eight hours), and there may be signs saying “No Camping” (which I interpret as “don’t pitch a tent”) but as their name states, rest areas are there so drivers can rest and avoid accidents from falling asleep at the wheel. (The Interstate Rest Areas website has a complete state-by-state breakdown of overnight parking rules.)

There are also apps available so you can find out on your phone what rests stops will fill your needs. The free USA Rest Stops app helps find rest stops on interstates as well as U.S. and state highways.

#3 If you’re staying in a business parking lot or at a rest area, know parking lot etiquette. Keep bodily fluids out of the parking lot. Keep your pet(s) under control and clean up after them. Dispose of trash properly. No yelling or honking in the middle of the night.

Most National Forests offer plenty of places for boondocking.

#4 For longer stays, do plenty of research before you set out. Read blog posts written by other boondockers. There’s lots of public land in the United States where people can camp for free. Look for Bureau of Land Management areas, Bureau of Reclamation land, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and Corps of Engineering land where boondocking is allowed.

Gazetteers show public land and the roads that will take you to remote, secluded locations. Benchmark Atlases show elevation, and DeLorme Atlas & Gazateers are also highly respected. 

#5 For both overnight and extended stays, the Free Campsites website is your best friend. This website allows you to search for free and cheap campsites by typing a location into a search bar. Once you have a list of camping areas near your destination, you can look at the details for each area. Folks who have actually camped in the area can leave reviews and photographs. Once you pick a spot, you can click on a “get directions” link which will take you directly to Google Maps to help you navigate to your destination. I’ve camped in free campgrounds across the United States that were found through Free Campsites; I can’t say enough good things about the website

#6 If you’re boondocking on public land, be prepared to have no amenities. Boondockers must be ready to provide their own electricity from solar panels or generators or to do without. Boondockers must carry in their own water for drinking and washing. Most boondocking areas offer no showers, no toilets (pit, flush, or otherwise), no dump stations, and no trashcans. Before you set out, prepare to take care of all your needs while on public land.

I left nothing but footprings.

#7 Practice “leave no trace” camping while on public land. Camp where others have camped before you, not on pristine land. Pick up your microtrash, and don’t leave trash in your fire ring. If you pack it in, be prepared to pack it out. Leave nothing but footprints.

#8 Research fire bans and fire permits while you’re still in civilization. If you plan to have a campfire, find out if it’s legal to do so before you get out of internet range. If you need a fire permit, get one before you go out into the wilderness. A ranger might not be sympathetic to ignorance of a fire ban or need for a fire permit while writing you a ticket for your illegal campfire.

#9 Don’t park too close to other boondockers. Give everyone plenty of elbow room, especially if you have pets or a generator you’re going to be running a lot. People go out into the wilderness for quiet and solitude, not to be under the armpit of another boondocker. If you’re scared to be out in nature alone, park where you can see other people without being right up on them.

#10 If you’re out in nature for an extended period of time, don’t forget to have fun. Watch a sunset. Take a walk. Relax and enjoy your free camping experience.

I took this photo while boondocking on public land.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

I Like to Party

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The Man and I have moved into our new digs out in the dessert, and we are slowly meeting the neighbors.

Most of the people who spend the winters in this area have been doing so for decades. Folks know each other, so newcomers stand out. Are you the girl who bought Coyote Steve’s place? folks keep asking me. They look a little skeptical when I say I am. Is their skepticism because I’m probably 20 years younger than the average person out here or is it because they don’t know if I have what it takes to be a desert dweller? I don’t know the answer to the question.

The other day, The Man and I were trying to get on the road. He had an appointment at a dental clinic, and we were trying not to be late. We’d stopped at the campground office on our way out to check on our mail. The Man was going to throw a bag of trash into the dumpster, and I was going inside to ask after a package we were expecting.

As I got out of the van, the three old guys on the porch eyed me suspiciously. I was in a hurry, so I’m not sure if I said hello.

Are you the girl who bought Coyote Steve’s place? the one standing up called after me. He had longish white hair and a longish white beard. He wore a red t-shirt and khaki shorts. I’d be surprised if he’s celebrated fewer than 65 birthdays.

I am, I said over my shoulder. I know I should have stopped, said hello, introduced myself, but I was in a hurry and feeling more East Coast than Southern.

Well, I’m your neighbor, he bellowed, and I like to party!

People Dancing Inside BuildingI just kept walking while wondering what information he wanted me to take from his statement. Was he offering me an invitation to party with him? Was he warning me to expect noise from his rig? What kind of partying did he like to do? Classic rock and whisky? Electronic dance music and Ecstasy? Was he hoping I was looking for sex with an older man? Perhaps I should have asked for more details, but I just kept walking.

When I got back in the van, I told The Man, That old man told me he likes to party!

I guess I was a little scandalized, not because a senior citizen might like to raise some hell and have some fun, but because he thought I might want to participate.

Well, The Man drawled, you can’t blame a man for putting it out there.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-dancing-inside-building-801863/.

X Factor

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I’d just found out the man who kissed me on Lundi Gras was married. Now I understood why he never game me his home number, why he never called me, why he hadn’t asked me out on a date. I was sad…sad to still be without a boyfriend, sad to still be unloved and alone. I didn’t want to feel sad so I tried to drown my sadness with alcohol.

It started with a box of wine. Some of the guys who lived in my dorm, Iberville Suites, played on an intermural softball team. They had a game that Friday afternoon, and they were we going to prepare for the game by drinking boxed wine. I chipped in a couple of bucks, so the alcohol belonged to me too. The box and two cans of spray paint were taken outside. First the entire box was painted silver, then a black x was painted on each side. The wine was no longer simply wine; it was X Factor.

I drank my fair share of the X Factor and was pretty well drunk when I walked over to the softball field. I’m not exactly sure what happened next, but I have a vague memory of heckling a member of the opposing team by insinuating he was gay. I was relying on the guy’s own homophobia to make him uncomfortable, but I should have really kept my big mouth shut.

One of the guys from the dorm was pretty drunk too, and he was also heckling the opposing team. He got kicked out of the whole area for his efforts; the umpire said he couldn’t even sit in the stands and watch the game.

The next thing I remember was thinking it was a good idea to call my mother and share my woes. Yes, that’s right, I was drunk and thought it was reasonable to call my mother and discuss my newfound knowledge of the marital status of the man I’d thought was into me. For some ill-conceived reason, I called her from the pay phone in the lobby of my dorm and proceeded to broadcast my business in front of God and everybody. It was as if I wanted the whole world to know what a loser I was.

I don’t think I told my mother I’d been drinking. Maybe she pretended she didn’t know what was going on. (My mother has always been very good with denial.) In any case, I told her all about the guy with his smooth DJ voice and his fake DJ name and his wife.

At your age, my mother said, you don’t need this.

She was right, I realized, although I think it’s more accurate that no woman needs to be involved with a married man at any age. Although I knew my mom was right, my heart was still broken, so I kept drinking.

My friends decided we needed more alcohol, so we got into a car and went to the grocery store. I remember standing in a brightly lit aisle, picking out bottles of Boone’s Farm soda pop-sweet wine. In those days a bottle could be had for $1.75, a good price even on a college student’s budget.

While we were out and about, I convinced my friends to take me to Tower Records so I could buy a cassette tape featuring the Ugly Kid Joe song “I Hate Everything About You.” I was feeling a lot of negative emotion and longed for music that would allow me to wallow.

I had a bit of a crisis at the cash register when I found out Tower accepted Visa and MasterCard but not Discover, which was the only form of payment I had on me. Luckily one of my friends agreed to pay for the tape when I said I could pay him back after I went to the credit union on Monday. I’m sure he was willing to do anything in his power to avoid witnessing me meltdown in the middle of the record store.

Back at the dorm, we drank, and my friends tried to cheer me up, although I was really inconsolable. People sing about drinking to forget, but alcohol never helped me to forget. All alcohol did was help me remember my problems in vivid Technicolor detail.

Oh shit! In the middle of the drinking and the moaning, I remembered something important. I was scheduled to work the dorm’s front desk from 4am to 7am that very morning. I sloppily confided my problem to my friend who also worked the desk in the dorm. What was I going to do?

It was about 2am, too late to call anyone and ask him or her to cover my shift. I was going to have to work, drunk or not.

My coworker friend (who’d also been drinking but held her liquor better than I ever did) devised a plan. I would drink a big glass of water, go to my room, lie down in my bed, and try to nap for a couple of hours. She would stay awake but quit drinking. At 3:55, she’d come and get me, and we’d go down to the lobby and work the shift together. It seemed like the best I could do, so I went to my bed and lay down. A couple hours later, my friend and I were in the lobby. I sat behind the desk and tried to hold my head upright and stay awake, while my friend sat on a couch and dozed.

Sometime earlier in the night, I’d heard that the fellow who’d gotten kicked out of the softball game had ended up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning. I’d been vaguely worried, but hadn’t thought much about it until he sauntered into the dorm around 4:45 in the morning.

Oh my god! I gushed. I heard you went to the hospital. Are you ok?

I’m fine, he shrugged. After they pumped my stomach, I went out drinking again.

I could not believe this fool. This chain of events was one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard.

I jumped to my feet, but didn’t stop there. I stood up on my chair and proclaimed, You are a stupid motherfucker! That’s the official Iberville Suites opinion of you!

He just laughed as he got on the elevator, while my friend talked me down from my perch.

The rest of the shift was uneventful. Time crawled by and I struggled to remain alert. My friend sat in the lobby with me the whole time. At 7am, she opened the curtains and unlocked the front door. We’d fulfilled our obligation, and I didn’t get myself fired. We went up to our rooms to pass out for a few hours until it was time to start our Saturday.

Love Letter to My Own Dear Self

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This post was written and scheduled before I began my new blog schedule, which explains why it’s not of particular interst of rubber tramps, nomads, travelers and van dwellers. I’ll be back on track next week.

Dear Me,

Hand with oil pastel draws the heartI know I don’t often tell you how much I love and appreciate you. It’s easy to get caught up in negativity and criticism and to forget to express gratitude for all the good. So on this day of hearts and flowers, I want you to know there’s so much I like about you.

I love your laugh and your sense of humor. When you think something’s comical, you don’t hold back; you’re not afraid to laugh long and loud. It’s awesome that you’re funny and make other people laugh too. You see what’s amusing even in sad times and amidst irritation. You know how to lighten a situation with humor, a trait your coworkers always appreciate.

I admire your love for the underdog. You have compassion for every homeless person on the street, every panhandler, every sign flyer. You don’t see the poor as a huddled mass, but as individuals, each with a story. You care about all of them. Remember when the dental office lied about the cost of their procedures, then tried to manipulate you into paying too much for services you didn’t want? You weren’t only angry about what they’d tried to do to you. You were also outraged because they are scamming poor people with few choices who may not know how to protest. It’s awesome that you can recognize and speak out about the suffering of others.

I’ve seen you give the shirt off your back to a man who was cold. (You had a t-shirt on underneath and more shirts at home, but it was a favorite shirt, and you were chilly as you walked back to your house.) I’ve seen you give a dollar to a sign flyer when you were mostly broke yourself. I’ve seen you give something you loved to a friend who admired the item. I know you don’t like to brag about your generosity (you’re modest too!), but I see and appreciate the way you share.

Your creativity is fantastic. Not only can you take a few old catalogs and some glue and turn out a beautiful collage, you can problem-solve to make real life better. I’ve seen you make a tasty dinner from a few random ingredients. I’ve seen you extend the life of your favorite jacket by sewing thrift-store patches over stains. I’ve seen you turn an old skirt into a curtain. You’re blessed with an imagination that allows you to see how what you have can be changed into what you need.

Your creativity pairs nicely with your frugality. If you have a need, you don’t rush out to buy a brand new something. You think about what you already have that might solve the problem. You shop at thrift stores and free boxes until you find what you need, or you try to do without. You never buy new clothes, and when new shoes are necessary, you look for a good deal on EBay. You find the free activities in every town you visit, and you know how to cook dinner in the park so you can avoid paying for restaurant food. You never met a bargain bin, reduced-produce shelf, or day-old bakery rack you didn’t like.

I know you are a loving friend. You write cards and letter to people you know will never write back Three Red Heart Balloonsbecause you hope getting mail will brighten someone’s day. You work hard at being a good listener, whether a pal is telling you a funny story or lamenting a sad situation. You call people; you comment on Facebook; you stay in touch.

You’re a great writer, and you keep getting better. Your growth as a writer is evident to anyone who reads your blog regularly. Your writing ability was fine when you started, but the consistent practice has brought you to a higher level. Readers are engaged with what you have to say; you know how to pull them into the story. You’re learning how to be more concise, and you’re not afraid to try new ways of weaving stories so your readers don’t get bored after three years of regular posts.

Of all the things I like about you, your hope is what stands out most. You’ve had hard times, and there are probably more on the way, but you haven’t given up. You may not always believe life will get better, but you hang onto the belief that life could get better. You haven’t given up on improvement. You may say, What’s the point? but you haven’t yet concluded that there is no point. Sometimes your hope is big, but even when your life is at its worst, you hold onto at least a glimmer of optimism.

I know sometimes you want to pull away and hide when you feel unloved and unwanted and unappreciated. Please remember, you are always loved. I love you. I appreciate you. I’m always here to take you in my arms, rock you gently, kiss your tears away.

Love,

Me

beautiful, hands, heart

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/hand-with-oil-pastel-draws-the-heart-6333/ , https://www.pexels.com/photo/three-red-heart-balloons-704748/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-hands-love-woman-5390/.

Married Man

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I called the DJ I’d met on Lundi Gras a few times at his work. We chatted amicably, but he never gave me his home number or asked me out on a date.

The third or fourth time we talked, he said, You know I’m married, right?

Well no, in fact I did not know he was married. How would I know? It hadn’t occurred to me to check his finger for a ring because I naively assumed a married man would not be kissing a young woman he’d just met in the French Quarter. Evidently I was wrong.

I told him good-bye, hung up the phone, and proceeded to get very, very drunk.

There was a box of wine involved and an intramural softball game where I heckled the members of the opposing team. Later there was a trip to the grocery store where my friends and I bought bottles of Boone’s Farm sangria and Strawberry Hill. Before we drank in a dorm room, I convinced the driver to go to Tower Records so I could buy the cassette tape by Ugly Kid Joe featuring the song “I Hate Everything About You.”

After the softball game and before the trip to the grocery store and Tower Records, I called my mother from the payphone in the lobby of my dorm.

I told her what happened. This man…phone number…married. I don’t remember if I told her about the kiss.

At your age, she told me, you don’t need this.

As if at some other age it might make sense to get involved with a married man? It was a strange way to phrase the advice, but I think she meant, You’ve got your whole life ahead of you; don’t fuck it up so soon.

I honed in on you don’t need this and realized she was right. This man barely seemed interested in me and he was married? Forget it!

(In retrospect, I wonder if he was trying to find a young woman who would pursue him, someone he could blame if his marriage fell apart. Honey, it wasn’t really what I wanted, I imagine him telling his wife. She kept after me until I was worn down.)

I never called the DJ again, and he never called me.

Several months later, I was working retail. We were allowed to listen to the radio, but only the local country music station. I usually worked nights, but one week I picked up a day shift to help out a coworker. The country music station was blasting from the speakers and guess who the DJ was. Yep, the married man who’d kissed me on Lundi Gras. He talked about his wife and his new baby. What? Baby? Yep, he sure was smitten with his new baby and the wonderful wife who’d produced it for him.

Had his wife been pregnant when he kissed me? I did some quick math. Yes, she had. She had certainly been pregnant the night he kissed me. She’d been pregnant when I called him at work. She’d been pregnant when he told me he was married.

What kind of game had he been playing? I thought about calling him and demanding answers but decided I was better off not talking to him.

My mom was right. At my age, I didn’t need such complications.

Now I’m glad I didn’t call and demand answers, didn’t make a scene, didn’t make his life difficult. While I don’t think he should have kissed me while he was married to someone else (especially a pregnant someone else), I hope I was a blip on the screen of an otherwise happy relationship.

So strange to think his baby is now older than I was at the time her father kissed me.

So strange to think I followed my mother’s advice and I’m glad I did.

Lundi Gras

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It was Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, and the entire city was in party mode. It was the perfect time for kissing a stranger in the French Quarter and bringing a stranger home to share my bed.

I was a student at a university in New Orleans, adrift in-between boyfriends. I’d recently freed myself from my controlling high school sweetheart who’d thwarted my plan to slowly drift apart when I went off to college by following me there. I was looking for love but settling for sex in those party days of my early 20s.

I’d gotten a temporary job for the Mardi Gras season through a friend of a friend. The t-shirt shop where I worked was tucked into a quiet corner of the Quarter and was only open during daylight hours. After closing up shop, the woman I was working with and I met our mutual friend and took our party to the streets.

Our first stop was the convenience store where cans of cheap beer floated in a tall cooler filled with slushy ice. The beer was nasty, but the price was right for working-class collage students at only a dollar for not just one but two cans. I downed one of my beers quickly, while it was still icy cold. I enjoyed the way the alchohol went straight to my head.

Where all did we walk that night? I have a hazy memory of the fountain at the Riverwalk and crowds of people packed in to listen to Dr. John play. It was too much for us, or maybe we didn’t see anyone we knew, but for whatever reason, we wandered back to the Quarter.

I think I met the DJ on Jackson Square. We met in some quiet place, because I was able to hear him when he spoke. He was a DJ at a local radio station. Although his radio name was the same as a classic rock legend, the DJ worked at a country music station. At some point during our conversation, he leaned over and kissed me. It was a rather chaste kiss, but it made my head spin as much as the beer had. He liked me! He was an older man (maybe even 30!), an adult with a real job, and he liked me! Usually my friends got all the guys, but this grown-ass man liked me.

My friends quickly got bored and urged me to come on! There was to be more from this night than me getting kissed. There was bound to be more exitement around the next corner.

I said good-bye to this exciting man who I expected to change my life.

Call me at the radio station, he said to me and told me the hours he worked. I was too naive to know that a man who really liked me would scribble his home phone number on a scrap of paper and press it into my hand.

We hadn’t gone far before we ran into the two boys* from Chicago in town from Mardi Gras. My friend had met them somewhere (a bar probably) a night or two before and befriended them. They were maybe even crashing on my friend’s floor. My memory is fuzzy after all these years. They were dressed like they’d come from the video for a song by the Black Crows–all patched pants and nouveau hippie.

The one guy had dark hair. He was nice enough, but I don’t remember his name or much about him. His friend, however, was lovely. His name was Michael and he looked like a nouveau hippie angel. His blondish hair was longish and curly, but he looked more like a cherub than a Greek god. He was good-looking, but attainable.

The five of us hung out the rest of the night, walking the streets of the Quarter. At some point I’d drunk my second 50 cent beer, but I don’t think I’d had any more alcohol than that. I was tipsy but not sloppy, and I was having a great time.

The more I hung out Michael, the more I liked him, and the more I liked him, the more I wanted him in a carnal way. Emboldened by the alcohol and the earlier kiss from a stranger (which proved I was desirable), I decided I was going to ask this young man to come home (and by home, I mean dorm) with me.

I waited until we were stopped on the sidewalk so my friends could talk to someone they knew and I didn’t. Michael’s friend had wandered out of earshot, and the two of us were standing there a little awkwardly, two wallflowers at the world’s biggest party.

I turned to him and smiled. Would you think I was a terrible person if I asked you to come home with me?

He grinned at me, said, I wouldn’t think that at all, and hugged me.

Michael and I spent the rest of the evening out grinning at each other. We knew what was going to happen next, even if our friends were still clueless.

I don’t remember how we got back to my dorm, but I remember us going to my room where my roommate thankfully was not. We had friendy sex, them grabbed a few hours of sleep next to each other in my single bed. In the morning, I walked him downstairs and watched him leave through the big glass doors at the front of the building.

I never saw or heard from Michael again, but I’ll never forget the Lundi Gras when I was kissed by a stranger and slept with an angel.

* by “boys” I mean two young men old enough to consent

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress

Play-Doh: A Tale of Adulthood

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I don’t remember why my mother and I were at the mall.architecture, blur, building

I was in my early 20s, home from college for the weekend. My parents’ marriage was in the early stages of shambles, although I may not have realized it at the time. We’d probably left the house to get away from my dad, but why the mall? Neither my mom nor I were big shoppers, except at thrift stores, so the mall seems like a strange choice for us, but there we were.

The one redeeming quality of this small-town mall was a dollar store. This store wasn’t Family Dollar or Dollar General or one of those tricky “dollar” stores. This store sold every item in it for one single U.S. dollar. It was almost as good as a thrift store.

I don’t remember all the stores we visited that day. I don’t remember what we bought, save for one purchase from the dollar store: a can of Play-Doh.

Perhaps I was trying to reclaim my so recently left behind childhood. Perhaps I was planning for a night of psychedelic fun. I do remember being really into toys in those days. I could no longer play with the same abandon I’d enjoyed as a kid, but I kept toys around in the hope they’d provide some relief from a life of exams, ex-boyfriends, and money woes.

The Play-Doh was vivid purple. When I opened the can, I saw it was smooth and unsullied. It exuded that particular Play-Doh odor of chemicals and innocence. It was soft and cool under my fingers as I kneaded and rolled it. I’d never been much of a sculptor, but I’d always enjoyed the tactile sensation of Play-Doh in my hands.

As long as I could remember, I’d wondered what it would be like to sink my teeth into a mound of the modeling compound. I’d never been a glue eater or a paper chewer or a consumer of ChapStick like the girl in my sister’s kindergarten class who ate half the contents of a tube in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. It wasn’t that I wanted to eat the Play-Doh so much as know what it would feel like between my teeth. This chunk looked so clean and inviting.

I told my mom I’d always wanted to bite into a thick chunk of the stuff. As I raised the Play-Doh to my mouth, she used my first and middle names, a sure indication she had on her bossy pants. Don’t you dare!  she commanded.

She was going to forbid me? Game on! I was a grown woman! I made my own decisions! She could no longer tell me what to do!

I brought the purple Play-Doh up to my mouth while my mother looked at me with horror and amazement. Yep, I was really going to defy her. Yep, I was really going to bite into the Play-Doh.

I don’t remember how it felt when my teeth sank into that purple loveliness. I do remember it tasted awful. Luckily we were sitting in the still-parked car, so I was able to open my door and spit the contents of my mouth onto the asphalt. It was so gross, so very, very gross. I spit a few more times to remove all residue.

I’m sure my mother was trying to decide if she should embrace the anger she felt at my willful disobedience or laugh as I suffered my comeuppance. It wouldn’t be the last time I experienced adult independence as something less than delicious.

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