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In Praise of Hot Water Bottles and Sleeping Alone

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The beginning of winter is upon us. To help you prepare for cold weather sleeping, especially if you sleep alone in a van, car, or poorly insulated RV, here’s my story about how an improvised hot water bottle saved my cold butt.

You grow up with movies, books, television shows, and advertisements

Two People Laying on a Bed Covered With a Floral Comforter

telling you that when you find a romantic/sexual/love partner you’re going to sleep in the same bed. You learn the cuddling and snuggling (not to mention the s-e-x) will be amazing, and it is, until one of you (me) starts snoring and the other person (a light sleeper) can’t get any rest.

The Man tried using earplugs, and they helped for a while, but my snores apparently penetrated the orange spongy foam and hit his eardrums. I tired Breathe Right nasal strips (and their inferior competitor Clear Passage nasal strips) to stop my snoring. Again, they helped only for a while.

His tossing and turning while trying to get back to sleep woke me up, and if that wasn’t enough to disturb my sleep, him saying Honey? Honey! and asking me to roll over onto my left side certainly was.

Sleep deprivation brings out a demon in me. Lack of sleep makes me not just grumpy but downright angry. I think The Man harbors the same type of demon. We both knew it wasn’t my fault I was snoring, but he seemed to take it very personally. I knew he was only waking me and asking me to roll over out of self-preservation, but still I was furious at him for interrupting my sleep.

I went off to house sit for two weeks, and each of us got a fortnight of blissful sleep uninterrupted by snores, tossing, turning, the middle of the night bathroom needs of another person, or calls for dream analysis in the wee hours. We were both well rested and no longer angry at each other, so we tried sleeping together again.

We didn’t even have one happy night together. My first night home, I passed out and started snoring  before he even drifted off. He woke me up several times in the night asking me to roll onto my left side, which I did. I’m a natural back sleeper, so I always returned to my back (and my snores) as soon as I reached a deep level of sleep. At 4am, The Man clicked on the light and exclaimed that our sleeping arrangement wasn’t working for him. It wasn’t working for me either. Our sleeping demons were back.

During my childhood my maternal grandparents slept in twin beds across the room from each other. This arrangement always confused me. Every other married couple I knew—my parents, my aunts and uncles, the people on TV—shared a bed. Didn’t my grandparents love each other? I realize now that it’s possible to like and love someone and not want to spend 8 hours out of each 24 in bed next to that person. (I also realize that the sleeping arrangement of my grandparents may have come from the desire to be good Catholics while feeling like their seven children were all the mouths they wanted to feed and butts they wanted to diaper).

Because The Man and I didn’t have the luxury of space enough for separate beds (much less the separate rooms it would really require for him to get away from my snores), I offered to sleep in my van. He protested, but it was really the easiest solution. There was already a bed in my van, but his camp cot had been folded and taken out of his minivan. My van was a mess, and it was easier for me to clear a small space on the bed for my short self rather than clean up the whole space so he could be comfortable. Also, The Man likes to wake up early, make coffee, and meditate. I sleep late and don’t move around before sunrise, so it made more sense for The Man to stay in the fifth wheel (where we were living at the time) where he could stand up and use the stove. I had no doubt I would be totally fine in my van. After all, I’d slept in my van before, and I knew someday I’d sleep in it again. Apparently, the sleeping in it again day had come sooner than I had expected.   

Selective Focus of Frozen Tree Twigs

Unfortunately, my return to the van coincided with an epic cold snap. Down in the southern Sonoran Desert where we were staying that winter, temperatures seldom drop below freezing. However, the first few nights I slept in my van, temperatures went down to the high 20s. Brrr!

I had plenty of warm clothes. I put on Cuddl Duds leggings, then pulled on flannel pajama pants. On top I wore a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and the matching flannel pajama shirt. I put warm socks on my feet and a warm hat on my head. I was suited up for winter.

My bed was suited up for winter too. I have a down comforter that I scored for a great price at a Goodwill Clearance Center in Phoenix. (Whoever brought it to the desert learned they didn’t need it.) This comforter often keeps me too warm if the temperature is over 45 degrees, so I knew it would keep me toasty on a freezing night. The only thing I worried about were the long minutes after I slipped into bed and before my body heat warmed up my surroundings. The mattress was going to be cold. The sheets were going to be cold. The comforter was going to be cold.

I harkened back to my days living in the Midwest. I’d seen snow there and temperatures as low as -16 degrees. I lived in a series of poorly insulated homes, and in attempt to save money, never set the thermostat higher than 68 degrees. Nights were cold, even when I dressed warmly and slept under a pile of blankets. To stay warm, especially when I first crawled into my cold bed, I’d take a hot water bottle under the covers with me.

Back in the Midwest, I used a hot water bottle I’d gotten in perfect condition

Silver Kettle over Burner

at a thrift store. I’d bring a pot of water to almost boiling (measured with a candy thermometer which must have come from a thrift store too), then carefully pour the hot water into the red container. I’d slip the hot water bottle into the polar fleece (acquired at the thrift store, of course) cozy I’d hand sewn for it and slide it into my bed to warm things up while I brushed my teeth and washed my face.

In my fifth wheel in the desert, I had no hot water bottle, no candy thermometer, no polar fleece cozy, but I knew a bottle of hot water would make the beginning of each night much more comfortable. I looked around for what I could use. Because of a lid that can be screwed down tight and the thick plastic it’s made from, a Nalgene bottle would have worked great. Alas, all of my Nalgene bottles were in use holding ice in the cooler we used since we had no working refrigerator. I remembered I’d just thrown away an empty plastic bottle cooking oil had come in, so I fished it out of the trash and washed it while my water was heating.

The plastic the bottle was made from was fairly thin, and I didn’t want to melt it, so I only heated the water until it was quite hot to the touch. Then I poured it into the cooking oil bottle and carried it out to the van. I slipped the bottle full of hot water under my comforter, then went back inside to brush my teeth. When I returned to the van, my sleeping area was nice and warm. The water bottle stayed hot for hours and if any part of me (my feet, my butt) got cold, I just moved the bottle to the spot that needed some heat. I was awake using the internet on my phone for a couple of hours, and I was perfectly warm under my comforter with my makeshift hot water bottle next to me.

I slept great that night. If I snored, I never knew. The Man said he slept great too. He got out of bed when he was ready and didn’t have to worry about bothering me. In the nights that followed, we sometimes missed cuddling, but not as much as we would have missed a night of good sleep.

I recommend a hot water bottle for anyone sleeping in a cold climate, whether you sleep in a van, a house, an apartment, or an old RV. Use a bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure the lid is tightly closed before throwing the bottle into your bed. Be careful that the water is not hot enough to melt the plastic of the bottle or burn your skin. If the bottle is too hot to touch, wrap it in a towel, shirt, or other random piece of cloth you have lying around. Depending on the size of your bottle, it may fit in an old (clean!) sock that’s missing its mate.

If you are living in your vehicle and are parking for the night at a truck stop, you can find hot (usually very hot) water with the coffee dispensers. If you don’t feel right about filling up your bottle with hot water without permission, ask the cashier if you can have some and offer to pay.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety. You are responsible for yourself! Hot water can be dangerous! Be careful!  Don’t melt your bottle. Don’t spill hot water on yourself. Don’t burn yourself on a hot bottle. Don’t flood your bed. Please, please, please use common sense.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-people-laying-on-a-bed-covered-with-a-floral-comforter-1246960/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-branch-close-up-cold-436792/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/antique-burn-burning-close-up-243053/.

Angry Old Man

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According to The British Association of Anger Management, National Anger Awareness Week begins this coming Sunday (December 1) and runs through December 7.The aforementioned website says,

The aim of Anger Awareness Week is to identify anger as a disturbing social issue which needs to be brought out into the open and addressed effectively. Anger Awareness Week will help people befriend anger by using the right tools to calm themselves down and to deal effectively with this emotion, be it of their own or that of others.

In honor of National Anger Awareness Week, I will share the story of a very angry man I met during my time as a fuel clerk. This guy really needed to befriend his anger, but since I was a fuel clerk and not a psychologist, I concentrated on getting gas in his car’s tank so he could take his unhappy self as far away from my workplace as possible.

When I worked at the supermarket fuel center, customers sometimes had problems using credit and debit cards at the pump. Sometimes the problem was trying to use a credit card we didn’t accept, but other times the nature of the problem was mysterious.

I usually knew when someone was having a problem because my POS (point-of-sale) system began beeping. When I looked over, I saw a yellow exclamation point flashing near the credit card icon. If I touched the credit card icon, a new screen popped up. The new screen showed what pump was having trouble and what kind of trouble it was. Whenever I heard the beeping, I tried to see who was having the trouble so I’d know what to say when the customer showed up at the kiosk. On busy days customers with trouble often made it to the kiosk before I could check the POS system.

One day an older man stepped up to the window in front of me. He was tall,

Sailboat Sailing on Water Near Island

and his grey hair was cut conservatively short. He wore shorts that hit just above his knees and a pink plaid shirt with a collar, short sleeves, and buttons. He was dressed the way I imagine rich people dress to play golf or go sailing. The guy obviously had money.

The guy was obviously angry too. I could tell he was upset by the look on his face and the way he carried himself. I did not look forward to hearing what he had to say.

Hi! I said brightly through the intercom. How can I help you today?

Pump 6 said to see the cashier, he sputtered. Yep. He was mad.

Were you trying to use [the card we didn’t accept]? I asked him.

No!  he barked. I was trying to use this, he said and showed me a credit card we did accept.

I know I made a face before I said, That’s strange. I can run it in here for you, I told the already angry man. How much do you want to put on pump 6?

I want to fill it up! the angry man said as if I should have already known that.

I’m sorry, I told him. I can’t do an open ended transaction here.

Grayscale Photo of Explosion on the Beach

I thought the old guy’s head was going to explode. Trying to avoid a meltdown, I said, I can come outside and help you if you like. He gave me a brief nod and stomped off. I took that as a yes.

When I got out to pump 6, I saw the white-haired man was accompanied by a middle age fellow—his son perhaps or his much younger lover. The middle age guy exercised his right to remain silent.

Let’s see if I can help! I said brightly.

The older man tried to jam his card into the reader, but I stopped him. We have to follow the steps on the screen or the computer will get all confused, I said to him. His head was definitely going to explode if he got any angrier. 

Do you have a rewards card? I read from the screen.

No, he answered through gritted teeth.

Then we’ve got to push the “no” button on the PIN pad, I said, reaching over to push the “no” button.

The next screen came up saying it was time to insert his credit card. I told him to insert his card now. As he did so, I told him to push it all the way in, then pull it out fast. If looks could kill, I would have been so dead.

The next screen asked the customer to enter his zip code. The customer did

Person Holding Gasoline Nozzle

so. Much to my relief and pleasure, the next screen instructed him to lift the nozzle and choose the grade of gasoline he wanted. I was tickled pink. I had saved the day!

The angry man was even angrier it seemed, although he didn’t voice his rage. Again, I could tell by the look on his face and his body language. Apparently, he’d become so invested in his belief that his credit card wasn’t going to work (and I bet he thought it was all the fault of the company I worked for!) that he got even madder when I got the card to work. Of course, he couldn’t complain because his card had worked, so his anger seethed inside of him. I figured I’d better get out of there before his head exploded and splattered me with brain matter.

As I headed toward the kiosk, I saw that the angry man’s younger companion had already wandered that way. When I caught up with him, I smiled and said, I guess I have the magic touch. The younger man smiled back.

I was glad I’d thought of something nice to say instead of Your friend is really pissed off or I hope your friend doesn’t have a heart attack or Your friend sure is an asshat. Sometimes when I open my mouth, the right words do come out.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sailboat-sailing-on-water-near-island-1482193/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-explosion-on-the-beach-73909/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/car-refill-transportation-gas-9796/.

Buy Nothing Day and Gifts That Don’t Involve Capitalism

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This Friday is not only Black Friday. It’s also Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day? you may be wondering. What does that mean?

According to the article “The Quirky, Anti-Consumerist History of Buy Nothing Day” by Nina Renata Aron,

Buy Nothing Day is an international day of anti-consumerist protest.

The day — which now also goes by the name Occupy Xmas — was founded by Ted Dave, a Canadian artist in 1992, but it gained traction through the 90s after activist magazine Adbusters…began to promote it.

Buy Nothing Day, on which participants are urged to buy literally nothing…is now observed in over 64 countries.

Photo by Anna Utochkina on Unsplash

Some folks use Buy Nothing Day as a time to reflect on the buying frenzy large portions of Western society participate in during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s not a coincidence that Buy Nothing Day coincides with Black Friday, the “official” start of the Christmas shopping season.

(You can read my reflections on Christmas spending in the post I shared last Christmas Eve, “You Gotta Pay Santa Claus.”)

Earlier this year I read a zine by my friend Laura-Marie River Victor Peace. Laura-Marie creates zines (you can find more information about her self-published writing on Facebook) and blogs at dangerous compassions. The zine that I read that made me think of Buy Nothing Day is called Resisting Capitalism for Fun. In the introduction, Laura-Marie writes,

this zine is about some anarchist stuff-resisting capitalism, community, gardens, environmentalism, not buying things.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Why would I want to resist capitalism? you might wonder. Isn’t capitalism better than socialism or (gulp) communism? Isn’t capitalism about freedom of choice?

First of all, it might help to know the definition of “capitalism.” According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, capitalism is

an economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, communications, and transportation systems, are privately owned and operated in a relatively competitive environment through the investment of capital to produce profits: it has been characterized by a tendency toward the concentration of wealth, the growth of large corporations, etc. that has led to economic inequality, which has been dealt with usually by increased government action and control

As to why we might want to resist capitalism, I read a great summary of the system’s problems in a Teen Vogue article called “What ‘Capitalism’ Is and How It Affects People” by Kim Kelly.

Individual capitalists are typically wealthy people who have a large amount of capital (money or other financial assets) invested in business, and who benefit from the system of capitalism by making increased profits and thereby adding to their wealth.

The kind of impact that capitalism has on your life depends on whether you’re a worker or a boss. For someone who owns a company and employs other workers, capitalism may make sense: The more profits your company brings in, the more resources you have to share with your workers, which theoretically improves everyone’s standard of living. It’s all based on the principle of supply and demand, and in capitalism, consumption is king. The problem is that many capitalist bosses aren’t great at sharing the wealth, which is why one of the major critiques of capitalism is that it is a huge driver of inequality, both social and economic.

(If you can’t imagine why in the world Teen Vogue is weighing in on the pros and cons of economic systems, read the op-ed piece–“How I Can Critique Capitalism — Even On an iPhone“– Lucy Diavolo wrote for the teen fashion magazine.)

Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash

Whether you love capitalism or hate it (or feel something in between or even apathetic), you might want to step away from the shopping frenzy at malls and big box stores this holiday season. Maybe you want to save money by making gifts to give to your loved ones. Perhaps you want to keep your religious beliefs or family traditions instead of material objects at the forefront of your holiday celebrations. Your friends and family members might not need more objects to clutter their homes, and you want to give gifts that don’t take up space and never need to be dusted. Perhaps you have chosen to support artists, writers, and craftspeople this year. Whatever your reason for wanting to take a break from capitalism, I’ll share with you where to shop, what to create, and from whom to buy so you can make your holiday season a little less corporate.

Where to Shop

By shopping at thrift stores, you’ll keep items out of the landfill and possibly help support a good cause. Look for stores that benefit domestic violence survivors, animal shelters, and drug rehab programs. In addition to presents, pick up wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and gift tags.

Shop yard sales, garage sales, and fundraiser rummage sales. It might be too late to use this tip for this holiday season, but in the future, keep your eye out for gifts and other holiday necessities.

Search your local Facebook buy and sell groups as well as good ol’ Craigslist for gently used items that might be perfect for someone in your life. You’ll pay less than retail and help someone in your community finance their own holiday celebration.

Keep an eye on your local FreeCycle group to see if anything people are giving away fit your holiday needs.

Consignment shops tend to sell higher-end items, so check out the merchandise at your local ones when buying for friends and relatives who are perhaps a bit particular.

Do your shopping at community craft fairs, farmers markets, artist co-ops, and other places where you can purchase items directly from the people who create or grow them.

If you’re lucky enough to attend a zine fair, buy zines for the readers on your list. If you can’t attend a zine fair, look online for zine distros like the one Laura-Marie has for her zines. You can also take a look at list of zine distributors from Broken Pencil Magazine.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You can use your points on BookMooch to get books to give to your readers. If you want to give only books in excellent condition, pay close attention to the condition notes. Alternatively, shop at locally owned used book stores. Consider looking for the childhood favorites of the adults on your list.

If you can’t find the right gift locally, shop at online stores that sell handmade products such as Etsy, Absolute Arts, Artfire, Articents, Hyena Cart, and Shop Handmade. Shopping on these sites will let you buy from creators and small business owners who will certainly appreciate your support.

Shop at museum stores. True, you probably won’t save a lot of money with this tip, but you will get high quality items for giving, and you will support the arts with the dollars you spend.

What to Give

If you can sew, make reusable tote bags. You can find lots of ideas on the All Free Sewing website. If you don’t have sewing skills, buy reusable bags at thrift stores and decorate with iron-on patches.

Sew neck coolers with water-activated beads in them. These items will help folks stay cool in the summer. Instructables offers simple instructions.

Photo by John Doyle on Unsplash

Make Christmas tree ornaments for family and friends who decorate a holiday tree. You can get more than 60 ideas for do-it-yourself ornaments from Good Housekeeping.

Make draft stoppers (also known as draft dodgers, door pillows, draft blockers, etc.) to stop cold air from coming in at the bottom of doors. You can get 20 draft stopper ideas on the Good Stuff website.

Make cards or bookmarks decorated with pressed flowers. (Better Homes & Gardens will tell you how.) Use flowers you grew yourself or those picked on private land. You can also ask a florist for discarded flowers or check the dumpster behind the shop.

Make melt and pour soap for everyone on your shopping list. If you have more time and energy, make soap the old fashioned way. The Spruce Crafts will tell you how.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Use yarn purchased at thrift stores and/or garage sales to knit or crochet hats, scarves, mittens, socks, or blankets.

If you have one of those small looms, make potholders for everyone you know.

Recycle old candles bought at thrift stores and garage sales or collected from FreeCycle into gift-worthy items. Get the candle holders for free or cheap too. Add flowers, seashells, stones or other small decorative items to the candles.

Use hemp to macrame necklaces, key rings, and bracelets. The Spruce Crafts will teach you the seven basic knots you’ll need to know. Buy supplies from a local small business or from an independently owned company like Hemp Beadery.

Compile recipes (especially favorite family recipes) in cute notebooks or on recipe cards.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Homemade treats are usually a hit and less expensive than buying mass-produced yummies, especially if you shop sales. In addition to baking cookies, try puppy chow (aka muddy buddies) snack mix, Christmas crack, buckeyes, Chex mix, popcorn balls, Rice Krispies® treats, fudge, chocolate covered pretzels, haystacks, no-bake cookies, and rosemary thyme spiced nuts. You can also give homemade pickles, preserves, jams, jellies, and canned fruits and veggies. If you don’t like to cook, buy yummy gifts directly from the makers or give friends and family honey bought directly from a local beekeeper.

If you’re a gardener, grow loofahs or gourds that can be turned into birdhouses. If you grow houseplants, propagate new plants from cuttings. Repot the new plants in pots and jars you get from thrift shops or FreeCycle and give them as gifts.

For the kids in your life, make sculpting dough, sidewalk chalk, bubble solution, rainbow crayons, moon sand, wooden blocks, and/or bean bags.

Most grandparents love photos of their grandkids. Assemble photo albums with pictures of the kiddos and some of their artwork as well. Use goofy candid shots as well as serious, posed scenes. This gift could also work for great-grandparents, godparents, doting aunts and uncles, and a parent who is often away from home for work.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

If you’re a visual artist, give your art as gifts. Turn artwork into notecards, postcards, or bookmarks or give original pieces.

If you have nice handwriting, write inspirational words on cardstock or pretty paper.

Give a membership or passes for a special excursion to a museum, science center, animal park, or botanical garden. A season pass for a family of four may be less expensive than four individual gifts, the family can enjoy good times all year, and there’s no stuff to clutter the house.

Give an annual America the Beautiful Pass to an individual or family that likes to visit federal recreation areas (national parks, forest, monuments, etc.). A lifetime Senior Pass is also available.

Write letters to everyone on your gift list. Tell the recipients everything you admire about them or recount a fun or special experience you shared.

Create handmade books from scavenged or leftover materials.

Writers and students can always use notebooks. Buy spiral notebooks or composition books at thrift stores or during back-to-school sales. Update the covers using contact paper, stickers, chalkboard paint or chalkboard contact paper, or heavy craft paper and spray adhesive. Sometimes you can find brand new blank journals at thrift stores too.

Make coupon books redeemable for your services (such as a night of babysitting, doing the dishes, washing the car, giving a foot or back rub, scrubbing the bathroom, mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, taking down the Christmas tree, vacuuming the living room, raking leaves, doing the laundry, etc.). The Spruce Crafts collected 15 sets of free printable love coupons to help with the project.

Give certificates promising to teach a skill (such as how to bake a cake or bread, how to change the oil in a car, how to sew on a button, how to build a fence, etc.).

Of course, even do-it-yourself projects require materials. It you’re trying to avoid capitalism this holiday season, don’t rush out to buy new supplies. Do an inventory of what you have on hand. Perhaps old supplies can be used for new projects. If you must buy materials, shop at thrift stores first. You might be able to get what you need via FreeCycle or you could trade supplies with a crafty friend. If you must purchase new materials, try to buy local, from small businesses.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Hopefully you’ll be able to use the ideas in this post to remove at least some of the capitalism from your holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Las Posadas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Festivus, or Kwanzaa, you’ll be able to give meaningful gifts that won’t line the pockets of the already rich.

I realize the first part of this post focuses mostly on Christmas. I understand that other holidays are also celebrated during the winter season. However, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Solstice, Festivus, and Kwanzaa are not known for their contributions to rampant consumerism. Also, the gifts mentioned in this post (with the exception of Christmas tree ornaments) are suitable for all gift-giving occasions.

I have not tried any of the projects to which I have linked in this post, so I cannot vouch for instructions given. The links are simply starting points for your own research. I hope they help. Also, I have not and will not receive any compensation for linking to other websites in this post.

Sandwich

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According to the National Day Calendar website, this Sunday, November 3 is National Sandwich Day. What will you do to celebrate?

In recognition of this popular food, today I’ll tell you a little story about a sandwich. It’s kind of a gross story which also involves pit toilets. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

I’ve heard it said that humans can grow accustomed to anything. Anything? Well, probably most things, including the gross and the stinky.

Pit toilet with lid down.
This photo shows an actual pit toilet.

When I worked on the mountain, pit toilets at the very busy trailhead and the campground next to it had to be pumped several times between the middle of May and the middle of October. The truck that came up to pump the toilets was the same kind that removes the waste from porta-potties. A long, flexible hose was dropped down into the chamber (also referred to the pit or the vault) below the seat. A pump on the truck sucked up all the waste materials from inside the chamber and deposited everything into a big holding tank mounted on the truck. When the tank was full, the truck went down the mountain to deposit the waste I-don’t-know-where.

A sign  reads, "For better smelling restroom keep toilet seat down." Two drawings of the side view of a pit toilet show that with the toilet lid down the "smelly" stays below the toilet and then vents up and out of a pipe, but when the lid is up, the "smelly" fills the toilet room.
Even keeping the lid down couldn’t control the bad smell after the pit toilets were pumped.

The pumping process stirred up all the decaying waste material and created a HORRIBLE smell. If you’ve never encountered a large concentration of decaying human waste, let me tell you, it smells really bad. It stinks to high heaven. To put it simply, it smells like death, and death does not smell one bit pretty.

I wouldn’t say I grew immune to the stench of toilets being pumped, but at least after the first couple of times I encountered the process, I knew what to expect. As GI Joe taught us, knowing is half the battle.

Most of the visitors to the trailhead and campground were city folks; many of them had never encountered a toilet that didn’t immediately flush their waste away. On a regular day, the smell from the pit toilets was often enough to make them mighty uncomfortable. When the city folks were present for the pumping or its immediate aftermath, they were quite surprised and quite disgusted and quite unhappy.They had no idea shit and piss could smell so nasty.

One day the pump truck came up the mountain. We could practically smell it before we saw it.

Small building with two doors, each with a restroom sign next to it. Two metal trash cans sit outside the building.
This is the building in the middle of the parking lot that housed the pit toilets.

Here we go, I thought. I knew the visitors were going to be melodramatically grossed out, and I was sure to hear complaints.

The pump truck went down to the middle of the parking lot where the two pit toilets were located. I couldn’t see the two men at work, but I could hear the pump and smell the funk. Yes, as always, the churned up human waste smelled horrific.

Finally the pump was switched off and the quietude of nature prevailed. I knew the stench would settle, but at the moment the entire parking lot was enveloped in an awful aroma.

The truck came around the curve leading to the parking lot’s exit, and the driver stopped it near me. Groan. The driver hopped out with clipboard in hand and asked me to sign the form stating he and his partner had been there and done the job. I agreed, wanting the reeking truck away from me as soon as possible.

Sign reads, "Keep this toilet clean." The sign gives instructions (with corresponding drawings) on how to properly use the pit toilet. Instructions include "Sit on the toilet during use. DO NOT stand on the toilet. DO NOT use the floor. Use the toilet. Put used toilet paper in the toilet. Do NOT put trash in the toilet. Use the trash can."
My favorite sign explaining how to use a pit toilet.

Just before I signed the form, I glanced over at the truck. What I saw gave credence to the idea that humans can grow accustomed to anything. The other pump truck worker, a young guy probably in his early 20s, was sitting in the passenger seat munching a sandwich.

The tourists were reeling, practically dry heaving and passing out, and this guy was sitting in the stink truck, nonchalantly having lunch. I wondered if he had no sense of smell or had simply become so accustomed to the stench that it was basically background noise–or perhaps more accurately, background stink. In any case, he seemed to be enjoying his sandwich, not at all bothered by the odor that was causing the rest of us so much grief.

I took the photos in this post.

Halloween

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Two Jack O'lantern Lamps

For the last four years Halloween has snuck up on me, and too late I’ve thought I should have written a post in celebration of the holiday. The problem is, none of my Halloweens memories lend themselves to a good story for a blog post.

I didn’t trick-or-treat much as a kid. There are photos of me as a tiny child holding a plastic jack-o-lantern that doubled as a treat collection device, but I have no memory of that night. The only time I do (vaguely) remember trick-or-treating as a kid was probably fourth grade. I don’t know why my parents let me and my sibling go that year. I do remember my “costume.” I pulled long white tube socks over my pants and up to my knees, carried my catcher’s mitt, and called myself a baseball player. It was enough to get me candy, so it was enough for me.

Woman Making Trick of Treat in Front of a Girl

There were Halloween parties through the years. My parents organized a Halloween party and haunted house for my Brownie troop when I was in first grade. Because I was present for the planning and setting up, I was privy to the secrets of the haunted house. The “eyeballs” in a bowl? Just peeled grapes. The mound of “veins”? Simply cold cooked spaghetti. The scary gorilla creature pounding on the door, trying to escape the tiny room that confined him? Only my dad in a rubbery mask with bad hair. I don’t know why the adults thought it would be a good idea to scare the bejesus out of little girls. My favorite part of the celebration was the costume contest where I won 2nd place for my portrayal of a nice witch.

Years later, on the cusp of teenagehood, the neighbor girl my age had a Halloween party and I got to go. I wore a strange dress, a hand-me-down from my older cousin. It was loose and long and somewhat reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie although I can’t say exactly how. Wearing that dress, along with the pink circles of lipstick my mother drew on the apples of my cheeks, I made a passable rag doll. I remember having fun, but I can’t recall a single game we played.

White and Black Panda Plush Toy

Of course there were Halloween celebrations at school every year up until junior high. Those parties were really just excuses to goof off for most of the afternoon and get sugared up before going home. I do have the vaguest recollection of wearing one of those costumes that consisted of a mask and a plastic smock at school. I was a ghost in some elementary school production, but I have no memory of a plot, and, appropriately for a ghost, I had no lines.

In college, after moving out of the dorm and into a place of my own, I started having Halloween parties. My dad helped me decorate for the first party by building a small coffin as a centerpiece. My best friend and I taped out a crime scene outline of a body in front of the entrance door. I dressed as a harem girl (ugh—cultural appropriation and the glorification of sex slavery) in a costume my mother must have made for me. My friends (and some people I barely knew) came over. We ordered pizza. We drank too much beer. I went to bed alone.

I threw other Halloween parties after I graduated. The year I was skinny, I

Photography of Cat at Full Moon

wore a pointy hat and a black slip with no bra and called myself a sexy witch. Again, there was too much drinking of beer. Again, I went to bed alone.

Eventually the Halloween parties stopped. I’m one of those hosts who gets really excited to throw a party. I like the planning stage. I invite everyone I know, buy a bunch of beer, make some food. Then on the night of the event, I get really anxious and uptight and wonder why I ever thought having a party was a good idea. One year I just decided I had enough stress in my life without throwing a Halloween party.

Halloween Candies

When my nephew was in elementary school, I visited his family one fall. My visit coincided with Halloween, so I went trick-or-treating with the family. My nephew was dressed as a mad scientist. I’d scored a mermaid costume at a thrift store, so my sequins sparkled and shined in the night. My nephew’s mother threw together a roller derby costume made authentic by the roller skates she carried slung over her shoulder. My nephew’s father got into the spirit (no ghost pun intended) of things by putting on a robe and shower cap and going as a guy about to take a shower. We walked around the neighborhood and admired the Halloween decorations while my nephew collected candy. The most fun I had that night was watching the boy who was usually limited to one “sweet thing” per day devour as many treats as he wanted.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend a “red” Halloween party where attendees were supposed to either wear the color red or dress as a communist. I wore a long skirt, a Guatemalan huipil, and large fake flowers in my hair and called myself “Frida Kahlo After She Fucked Trotsky.” My costume pride was shattered when a wisp of a woman arrived wearing a vintage dress of Frida’s era and braids wrapped around her head. She actually looked like Frida Kahlo. As for the party itself, it was kind of boring, although I did enjoy spending time with the friends who had invited me. The refreshments were delicious.

Halloween-themed Jack-o-lantern Lamp Near October 31 Calendar

In 2016 my dad died on Halloween, and October became Dad Death Anniversary Month. It’s not that I couldn’t go out and celebrate Halloween if I wanted, but I really have been over the holiday for a while. Now at the end of each October, I find myself pondering the loss of my dad instead of looking for a party.

Oh my dad…

He never met The Man, but I think they would have gotten along. They could have discussed carpentry and car repair, shared the details of their latest projects. They could have talked about God too and discussed spirituality. Those two would have had some common ground for sure. I think they would have liked each other, respected each other.

It’s not like I spend time every day thinking about my dad being dead.  It’s not like I’m still mourning. But sometimes I want to ask for his advice or share a victory. I’ll be about to call him, then remember: still dead.

I have a photo of my dad taped to the refrigerator. I figure it’s only fair that I see him every day and remember him, as it’s only because of his death that we have this tiny home, these physical comforts.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-creepy-dark-darkness-619418/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-celebration-child-costume-220426/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-blur-close-up-dark-237205/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/light-landscape-sky-sunset-35888/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/halloween-candies-3095465/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/halloween-themed-jack-o-lantern-lamp-near-october-31-calendar-1480861/.

Nevada Day 2019

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Today is Nevada Day. If you don’t know the first thing about Nevada Day, see the post I wrote about the holiday last year.

Sign reads "Nevada Car David Best with Patrick Dailey Bisbee, AZ."

To celebrate Nevada Day, today I will share with you photos I took of Nevada Car at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity that I attended with Nolagirl in the spring of 2018. Interestingly, Nevada Car hails from Bisbee, AZ. The Art Car Agency website says the art was created by David Best and is owned by Patrick Dailey.

It turns out that David Best is a big deal when it comes to art cars. In the 2015 article “David Best: the Man Who Builds Art – and Burns It” author Geoff Dyer writes that Best got into doing art cars

in the early 1980s, in Houston, right at the beginning of the art-car craze but – in a way that is typical – is careful to emphasize that he was just one of a number of people involved at the time, that the first art car was actually done by Jackie Harris.

Here’s a front view of Nevada Car.

Art car covered with beads and poker chips and all manner of things. No surface is left uncovered.

It was really difficult to get a photo of the full view of this car with my camera. In my opinion that’s actually ok because the beauty is in the details.

An old gaming device and a million other little things decorate an art car.

Here’s some sort of gaming device attached to the car. In the same photo I see about a hundred tiny white buttons, a plastic sea turtle, a stack of smaller-than-life traffic cones that were maybe once bright orange but are now faded and dingy, a toy baseball batter, a combination lock, and a dozen rusty bottle caps. What do you see that I’m missing?

In this photo it looks like a dozen gumball machines and a kindergarten class worth of Happy Meals upchucked onto a relatively small area of the car. All of these crappy plastic toys merge into such a cohesive whole that it’s hard to pick out individual objects. Look! There’s Buzz Lightyear! To the right, a dozen plastic crabs! I see a leg! I see a lion! I see creatures I can’t identify.

In an article on the KQED Spark website, Best’s process is described like this:

… Best strips vehicles down to the core before reconstructing them, striving to make the car’s original form unrecognizable. Rather than merely gluing objects to the body of a car, Best, who religiously goes to the dump, likes to use found object materials that ultimately take on their own personality. After making 30 art cars and 2 buses, Best has worked with over 10,000 people.

Discarded objects including a visible man, a toy baseball batter, and small traffic cones decorate an art car.

It’s easy for me to imagine an artist finding these items at the dump and being delighted to add them to an art car work in progress.

I’m not sure why this is piece is called Nevada Car. Because of the gaming devices? Because of the gaming device that says “Nevada Club”? I wish this exhibit of art cars had included statements from the artists.

Saints stand next to an old gaming machine.

I like the juxtaposition of the statues of saints next to this old gaming device. Is it a commentary on praying for luck? An observation of the degree to which our society treats money as divine? A mere putting-together of objects in a way that looked pleasing to the artist’s eye?

I found my favorite feature of Nevada Car, and it didn’t have much to do with Nevada. I’m not talking about the BMW emblem either.

Photographer is reflected in chrome. Face is blocked with camera. A BMW emblem and a red Grateful Dead dancing bear feature prominently.

I’ll leave you with a wish for a Happy Nevada day and a self portrait with dancing bear in chrome.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about the J Gurl and Zalafayra art cars and the art vans California Fantasy Van  and Camera Van that were also at the spark! Festival.

I took the photos in this post.

A Poem (Bonus Blog Post)

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Once I wrote a lot of poetry. Now I don’t write many poems. Actually, I write almost none. Prose has supplanted poetry in my life. However, becasue today is National Poetry Day in the UK, I decided to share a poem I wrote .

I’m not very happy with the formatting. I can never get poetry to format correctly on my blog. My apologies.

Situation

My dad said

a cowboy never sits

with his back to the door.

Now it’s called situational awareness.

We make the same mistakes

again and again—

search for love, affection,

understanding.

We’re aware of our

situation,

but what can we do

to change?

Raccoon Raids

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Tomorrow is International Raccoon Appreciation Day (IRAD). According to “A Quick Guide to International Raccoon Appreciation Day,”

…IRAD is a day meant to celebrate all animals, specifically raccoons, that, while being an important part of their ecosystem, are misunderstood and considered “pests” or “nuisance animals” to local peoples.

In recognition of this special day for raccoons, I share with you a personal raccoon story from the summer of 2018.

The Man was up early getting ready for work. I had a cold and the day before I’d told the other clerk at the Mercantile that I’d be taking the day off. I planned to stay in bed all day and let the cold pass.

The Man opened the door to my van and stuck his head in.  Did you leave the kitchen container out last night? he asked me.

 I don’t know, I mumbled, still groggy. If it’s still out there, then yes, I guess I left it.

The raccoons got into it. Everything’s contaminated, he said.

The raccoons! Dammit! I’d been picking up that container every night for the last few weeks and putting it into my van so as not to attract critters, but I’d forgotten to move it the night before and the raccoons had gotten into our kitchen supplies.

Typically I only had pots and pans and utensils in the tub, but recently I’d gotten lazy and tossed food in there too. That’s what the raccoons had come for. They’d spread half a bag of brown rice across the table the tub sat on, and they’d broken open the bag of falafel powder. They’d only sampled these items, but since we didn’t want to eat anything the coons had touched, this food was now trash. What they had eaten were the almonds my sibling had sent in a care package. The bag the almonds had come in had been left on the outskirts of our camp, and there was not a nut to be found in the area.

The Man said he’d woken up around 11pm; he wasn’t sure why. He grabbed his headlamp and shined it toward our outdoor kitchen area and saw a couple of raccoons up on the table ransacking the tub. He figured it was too late to stop the creatures, so he went back to sleep.

Because The Man had to go to work, guess who spent the morning of her sick day using hot, soapy water to wash everything that had possibly been touched by coons? I was none too happy, but I didn’t forget the tub outside again.

The final raccoon raid during our time on the mountain was more of an appearance than an actual raid. We were still awake when the raccoons came down from the trees that night. I don’t remember why I left my van. Maybe I got out to see why The Man was yelling and the dog barking. In any case, I was soon yelling too, telling the raccoons to go way! and to go home! Surprise: my yelling didn’t work. Those raccoons weren’t going anywhere they didn’t want to go.

I wanted to discourage them from hanging around our campsite. I picked up a fairly big pinecone and pitched it at the raccoon on the ground. I didn’t want to hurt it. Heck, I didn’t think I had any chance of hitting it. I typically can’t hit the broad side of a barn, as they say. I thought the pinecone would fall to the ground near the raccoon and startle the creature, causing it to scurry away. None of those things happened. I tossed the pinecone and somehow managed to hit the raccoon in the side. I was stunned and immediately sorry. However, the coon did not scurry away. In fact, it barely moved. It simply turned its head and looked at me like What?

Oh my god! I called to The Man, then explained how I’d hit the raccoon with a pinecone and it wasn’t in the least Brown and Black Raccoon Photobit scared.

Lock yourself in your van! The Man called out from inside his vehicle, and I did.

We’d left nothing out there for them to damage, so thankfully there was no raccoon mess to clean up in the morning.

Later when I marveled at the raccoon that hadn’t run away when smacked by a pinecone, The Man said, Those guys don’t care. They’re the original gangsters. They were born wearing masks.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-close-up-cute-289565/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-black-raccoon-photo-634255/.

Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day

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Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day. According to Wikipedia,


Founded by Jeff Rubin in 2004, National Punctuation Day simply promotes the correct usage of punctuation. Rubin encourages appreciators of correct punctuation and spelling to send in pictures of errors spotted in everyday life.[2]

On the eve of the day when we contemplate proper punctuation, I have an example of what not to do. Of course, there is a back story to this cautionary tale.

My grandma’s house had five bedrooms. After her husband (my grandfather) died and her youngest child (my father) left the nest, my grandmother found herself with more bedrooms than she needed. She decided she’d rent the extra bedrooms to single men and make a few extra bucks.

I’m not sure when my grandma started renting the rooms. My parents married in 1966, although I think my dad left home shortly after he graduated from high school in 1963. The renters were in my grandmother’s house throughout my early childhood in the 1970s. I don’t remember when exactly they left, but sometime in my teenage years, the extra rooms stood empty again.

I don’t know if renting those rooms fell within the laws of the small town where my grandmother’s house stood. If she had some sort of license from city hall, I never saw it. If a health inspector ever came by to check for violations, I never heard talk of it. Maybe in those days no bureaucracy cared if a widow rented out her extra rooms to single men looking for basic accommodations that wouldn’t cost too much.

The front door of my grandma’s house faced the street. The renters used the front door to access their living spaces. My grandmother’s friends and family entered her home through the side door that opened into her kitchen.

The front door opened into a narrow, dark hallway. Room #1 was on one side of the hallway; room #2 was directly across from it. Room #3 was behind Room #2. Sometimes when I stayed with my grandma, I’d go into the renters’ rooms with her and help her change the sheet which had been dried on the clothesline in the backyard and smelled of sunshine and grass. On the days we went quietly into the front of the house, the men had deserted the area in favor of work, but I still felt their presence like ghosts moving through their quiet room.

The rooms were sparsely furnished with a straight-backed chair and a twin bed. Clothes were stored in a small chest-of-drawers and a narrow closet. I don’t remember seeing a television in any of the rooms. What did the men living there do for entertainment after working all day? Perhaps they read books or listened to music on the radio. Perhaps they sat quietly and daydreamed of better days when they could afford homes and families of their own,.

The hallway from the front door opened into the common area. A refrigerator stood against the side wall; a table was pushed up against the wall the renters shared with my grandma’s kitchen. A couple of straight-backed chairs accompanied the table. The common area offered little comfort or color. To the right of the table was the door to the bathroom the men shared.

Of course, there were rules. The renters were not allowed to eat or drink in their bedrooms, only in the dining room. As someone who has rented rooms in people’s homes for short term stays, this rule blows me away. I can’t imagine being told I couldn’t eat in my own living space. Of course, I’m sure my grandmother was worried about spilled food attracting bugs (and in the Deep South, by “bugs,” we always meant roaches), but any insects attracted to the dining room would soon move through the house anyway.

The second rule was about ladies. No ladies were allowed (or “aloud,” as my grandmother spelled it). My grandma was no fool. She knew ladies in the house would lead to s-e-x, and as a good Catholic, I’m sure she wanted to limit the amount of sin occurring under her roof. If ladies were kept outside, the incidents of sex would be greatly reduced.

To make the rules clear, my grandmother made a sign.

Brown sign hangs on a white wall. Words written in black paint read No Eat Or Drink In Bed Room In Dining Only & No Lady Aloud. There is a comma between every word, inclduding "bed" and "room."

In her defense, my grandmother didn’t speak any English until she went off to first grade and was forced to learn the language. I think she only stayed in school for a few years, and she certainly didn’t graduate from high school. I understand her grasp on punctuation and spelling was weak at best. But even as little kids, my sibling and I knew the comma use on that sign was out of control.

It’s been suggested to me that perhaps because the words ended up so close together on the sign, my grandma used the commas to mark the space between words. Perhaps that theory reflects what happened, but I think it’s a too generous reading of the situation. I think my grandma, unsure of where to properly place any necessary commas, took a “more is better” approach to punctuating her sign. If one comma was good, ten commas must have seemed even better.

My dad liked to use commas excessively too, although I never saw him go quite as overboard as his mother did with the sign in question. I tend to sprinkle commas at a rate most textbooks would find a bit liberal, as does my sibling. Could excessive comma use be a genetic trait? Is it growing weaker because of the introduction of genes that don’t have the markers for excessive comma use, or has the educational system done its job of nurturing us beyond our comma prolific nature?

In my teenage years the renters departed one by one and were not replaced. The last to go was Mr. Jim, one day too old to live alone in the room he’d called home for decades. Whether he went to live with a family member or to spend his last days in a nursing home, I don’t remember. Neither can I recall whey my grandmother stopped replacing the renters when they left. Maybe the town ordinances changed, or may my grandma grew too old herself and could no longer change the sheets alone or feel safe with strangers on the other side of a door unlocked with a skeleton key.

Once the renters left, my sibling and I were allowed to take showers in the bathroom in the front of the house, as the bathroom in the main part of the house only had a tub. My sibling and I really needed a shower to wash our hair properly, so we preferred the front bathroom for our morning ablutions on the weekends we spent at our grandmother’s house. It was during one of these trips to the front bathroom that my sibling snapped the photo of the sign. This was back in the days of film, when by the the time you found out your photo was off center of the edge was cut off, it was too late. Neither my sibling nor I ever got another chance to snap a photo of the sign.

I wonder what happened to the sign. Surely when my grandma’s house was sold after she went to live in a nursing home, the sign was put in the shed or thrown in the trash. I sure do with I had that sign, a reminder of my childhood, a family legacy more precious than gold.

To learn more about National Punctuation Day, visit the official (?) website.

My sibling took the photo. I’m using it with permission.


World Suicide Prevention Day

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2019 World Suicide Prevention Day banner in English

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Suicide Prevention Day website,

Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.

To help call attention to this tragic reality, today’s post is about my own experience with suicide.

The Man and I were going over the Bridge at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning in early June. I was driving. When we were in the middle of the Bridge, I looked over and saw two uniformed state troopers standing on the observation deck. They were looking down, down, down, into the river. One peered through a pair of binoculars, and the other looked with his naked eyes.

Oh no!  I said. Someone must have jumped. I knew those state troopers weren’t bird watching. If they were looking down at the river on a Saturday morning, they were probably trying to spot a body.

Do you think so? The Man asked.

Unfortunately, I had to say yes.

When I sold jewelry and shiny rocks at the Bridge, it was always a sad time for me after someone jumped. Whenever I got word that a suicide had happened, I packed up my merchandise and went elsewhere for the day. Too many people (tourists and vendors alike) wanted to talk about the event as if it was only the latest bit of juicy gossip. Other people made bad jokes about suicide or said indignantly that it was something they would never do. Suicide has been a reality I’ve faced throughout my life, and I don’t take it lightly. There’s nothing funny about it as far as I’m concerned. Any time a person is so distraught that taking their own life seems like a good idea is a time for sorrow and mourning.

Even with the call boxes offering a direct line to a suicide prevention hotline placed on and around the Bridge, people still jump. Some people have given up, and no hotline can save them. Of course, I’m glad the call boxes are there. I’m glad they’re available to help the people who can be reached, the people who are undecided, the people who may be swayed by the kind voice of a stranger coming out of a speaker.

About three hours after I saw the state troopers on the Bridge, we headed over it again on our way home. I saw several vehicles marked “State Police.” They were all parked on the sides of the highway and none of them had lights or sirens on.

Something is definitely going on, I told The Man. Did you see all those State Police cars?

He had seen them too. We both knew those cops weren’t out at the Bridge having a picnic. We were both quiet the rest of the way home.

On Wednesday, my fears were confirmed.

I was listening to the local community radio station while I washed dishes. One of the news stories was about a woman who had committed suicide by jumping off the Bridge the previous Saturday. I was sad to have been right.

The radio announcer didn’t give many details about the death. He said the State Police don’t release the names of suicide victims out of respect for the survivors. He did say the woman had driven hours from her home in the big city to jump off the Bridge. Her family said she’d been depressed and talking about suicide. When her family members couldn’t get in touch with her, they called the State Police and asked them to do a wellness check.

The State Police found the woman’s car in the rest area adjacent to the Bridge. After finding the car, they started looking for the woman in the rest area. When they couldn’t find her there, they started looking below the Bridge. Unfortunately, that’s where they found her. I don’t know if she jumped at night so the darkness shielded her from the sight of her body’s final destination or if she waited until after sunrise so she could see where she was going. However it happened, by 10am she was gone.

The radio announcer said the woman was the second person to jump off the Bridge in 2019. The first person had jumped in April.

When someone jumps, I think it’s a sad and somber occasion, even if I’m not at the Bridge when it happens or when the body is discovered. When someone jumps, a life is over, a light has gone out, potential will never be realized. I know the pain and distress that leads people to kill themselves, and I don’t wish such hurt and sadness on anyone. 

Honestly, I’ve considered jumping from that bridge several times. I’m not sure what’s held me back, but whenever someone ends their life there, I think about how it could have been me. I have a personal connection with every single person who jumps from the Bridge.

Whenever I drive across the Bridge—especially in the early morning when I’m alone in the truck—I fantasize about seeing someone about to jump, stopping the truck, intervening, driving the person to safety. I was too late for the woman in June, but maybe I’ll be right on time for the next person.

If you are feeling sad, depressed, distraught, or suicidal, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1800-273-8255. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you have internet access, you can find more information on the hotline’s website. If you’d rather chat with a counselor instead of talking, you can do so from the website. If you’re having trouble, please ask for help.