Category Archives: My True Life

Fall from Grace

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I’ve always been clumsy. My father thought it was funny to call me “Grace” because I had none. He also often referred to me as “a bull in a china shop.” My dad wasn’t nearly as funny as he thought he was.

Once in my early 20s I discussed by clumsiness with a friend. She asked if I’d ever considered doing something to counter my clumsiness. I was perplexed. I thought clumsy was my destiny. I wondered what could I possibly do about it. She suggested I take up some sort of martial art. The thought made me shudder.

Not only am I clumsy, but I suffer from left-right confusion. In the BuzzFeed article “Why Do Some People Struggle To Tell Left From Right?” Professor John Clarke from Drexel University has the following to say about left-right confusion:

Twenty percent of the population has right and left confusion, meaning that they can’t immediately tell their right from their left without having to think about it first.

In my early days of driving as a 30-something, trying to distinguish left from right while also trying to juggle all the new skills I had to manage was often problematic. Even in daily, non-driving life, if I have to distinguish between left and right, I have to think about the fact that I am right-handed and then remember in what hand I hold a pen or pencil if I am going to write. That’s how I distinguish right from left.

I remember doing aerobics in junior high PE class and marching with the pep squad in high school. When the person leading the exercise gave verbal instruction to “stretch to the left” or “step to the right” I invariably used the wrong arm or foot. I was always the person turning in clockwise circles when everyone else was turning counter-clockwise. If the instructor stood facing the class, and I was supposed to raise the hand or take a step opposite of what she was doing, forget it. I can only mirror-image someone. My brain is simply too slow to process “I’m facing her so her left is my right, so if she stretches out the arm on my left, I need to stretch out my right arm.” Nope. My brain looks at the instructor and can only manage to mirror her motion at least for the first several times (or maybe the first several hundred times) we practice the movements. The comedy of errors I know will ensue if I try to learn a new physical sequence (be it dance, yoga, or taekwondo) has kept me out of the studio and the dojo.

(I did try a Zumba class about six years ago. I had all the same problems, so I know I didn’t outgrow any of this.)

My physical dexterity improved a bit after nearly 3,000 AmeriCorps hours working construction, but not before I fell in the mud in front of God and everybody while helping to move a heavy board. The coolest gal on the crew laughed right out loud at me, but I refused to quit, so I returned to work the next day despite my humiliation.

I blame my feet for my falls. I drag them when I walk instead of picking each one up in a distinct step. My walking style was particularly dangerous in Midwestern winters when ice and snow covered the ground. When I had to move across icy sidewalks, I’d actually give myself little pick up your feet pep talks in my head. I suspect most people instinctively pick up their feet when they walk, but I have to remind myself every (literal) step of the way.

The other problem with my feet is that instead of pointing straight ahead, they turn in towards each other. Someone noticed my younger sibling’s “crooked foot” (as our parents call it), which led to the dreaded nighttime brace, a metal bar stretching from one shoed foot to the other and holding them in proper position during sleep. My sibling understandably hated the brace, but at least now my sibling’s feet point where they’re supposed to. No one notice my feet were turned in, so they received no correction. I think sometimes I fall because my feet get tangled in one another.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t fall every day or every week or every month, but I don’t think most adults ever fall. Even my infrequent falls are unusual and too often. Especially now that I’m getting older, any fall is scary and dangerous.

Last August, I’d gone down the mountain and into civilization to do laundry, buy groceries, and run other errands. A combination of ridiculous heat and caffeine coursing through my veins had limited my sleep to about four hours. I was tired, but I’d gotten the laundry done.

I’d washed and dried The Man’s clothes and my own, as well as all of my bedding. Instead of making three trips to haul everything to the van (as I should have), I decided to use one of the laundromat’s wheeled carts. I put the three packed laundry bags in the cart, then piled my sheets, comforter, and comforter cover on top. I was moving a lot of laundry.

All went well until I encountered a dip in the pavement of the parking lot. Whether it was put there for drainage or speed control, I don’t know, but I had to cross this dip to get to my van.

I don’t think my sleepy brain registered the dip when I approached it. Suddenly I realized the cart wasn’t moving, but I don’t think I realized why. I started pushing, pulling, tugging on the cart before I adequately accessed the situation.

The cart started going down. Of course, I didn’t want my nice clean things to land on the dirty pavement. I tried to keep the cart upright, but instead of keeping it up, the falling cart pulled me down.

My torso hit the soft laundry, but my knees hit the pavement and my lower thighs hit the rigid metal of the cart. Ouch!

Finding myself lying on the ground is always surprising and disconcerting. I’m never quite sure how I got there.

It’s scary. Am I hurt? Can I walk? Is there blood?

It’s embarrassing. Did anybody see me? Do people think I’m drunk? Do people think I’m stupid?

This time I was sort of beached on the mound of laundry, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to lift myself up. I think I kicked and floundered a bit before I was able to pick myself up from the ground.

Mixed in with the hope that no one has seen me fall is always the indignation that no one has come to my aid. I hope no one has seen me, and I hope no one who has seen me will laugh and point, but I would like someone to check on my well-being. However, seeing a grown woman fall is awkward for bystanders too, and most people would like to pretend it never happened.

(Once while walking in a city when I was about 30, I stubbed my toe on a bolt left in the sidewalk when a streetlight was removed. I fell down and really jacked up my knee. A woman standing on the corner where I fell crossed in the street against the light to get away from me. Perhaps she feared my clumsiness was contagious.)

This time in the laundromat parking lot a good Samaritan did come to my aid. After I’d picked myself up, while I was wrestling the cart back to an upright position, a sweet older lady came up to me and asked if I was ok.

I saw you fall, she said.

I assured us both that I was ok, although I wasn’t 100% sure of that yet. I thanked the woman, dusted off a bit of grime from my comforter, and pushed the cart to my van. Thankfully there were no more dips in  my path.

After I loaded the laundry into the van, I lifted my skirt and checked my throbbing legs. I wasn’t bleeding. A few spots were red, but no skin was broken. My knees were sensitive for weeks, and it hurt to kneel. I ended up with a pale purple bruise above and to the left of my right knee. It continued to grow for days, and at its largest was bigger than my fist.

Overall, I got off easy. I know I need to be more careful and pay better attention to how I’m moving through the world. At my age and income bracket, a broken bone or even a sprained ankle would be a huge setback.

 

Baby Bovine

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I was alone in my van, driving up from Babylon after two nights, a full day, and a morning in the heat. I was tired because the heat had kept me from getting good rest.  It was early afternoon, full daylight, and although my van is a lumbering beast, I was making good time up the mountain.

Most of the road was well-lit by the sun, but where tree branches hung over the asphalt, shadows darkened the edge of the road. With my sunglasses on, it was sometimes difficult to see what was lurking in those shadows.

Crews were out felling hazard trees. The tree cutting had been going on for almost two months, and still there were dead and dying trees for the crews to take down. I slowed to a crawl when I saw workers on the side of the road and obeyed the signs demanding “slow” or “stop.”

I’m generally a cautious driver, and I tend to be even more careful on mountain roads. However, I almost had big trouble that afternoon.

I was taking a curve, and the road immediately ahead of me was deep in shadows. I was maybe going a little faster than I should have been. Maybe I had looked off to my left, or maybe I was daydreaming a little. I don’t remember what I was doing before I realized something was lurking in the shadows, but I do remember the panic and fear I felt when I realized something was out there.

Brown Cow in Green Leaf Grass during DaytimeIt was a calf, and it bolted. Instinct caused me to swerve into the other lane to miss hitting it. At first I didn’t think I had swerved fa r enough, and I worried I might hit the calf with the back of my van. Then I saw the calf running in the direction I was going and knew it was ok. I stayed in the wrong lane long enough to bypass the calf, then swung the van back into my lane.

Once I was away from the calf, I thought about the way I had swerved the van into the other lane without even looking to see if another vehicle was there. Luckily there wasn’t a vehicle in that lane, but what if there had been? What if someone had been coming from the opposite direction and had plowed into me because they were traveling too fast to stop?

I silenced my worried thoughts. It wouldn’t do any good to work myself into a panic over something that was finished. Just be more careful, I reminded myself.

What really mystified me was why that calf was alone. The bovines in that area usually hung out in groups of half a dozen or more. I occasionally saw a grown cow alone, but never a baby. I think I would have seen a grown cow more easily in the shadows. I certainly would have been going slower had I seen a cluster of cows on the road or by its side. In any case, the baby’s mamma was not there doing her job, and she and I both nearly paid the price.

I listened to my own advice and was more careful the rest of the way back to my campground. I especially slowed down and took a good look any time my side of the road was cloaked in shadow.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-cow-in-green-leaf-grass-during-daytime-51950/.

And Everything Changes Again

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The zia is the official symbol of the Land of Enchantment.

The Man and I have been talking about buying land in New Mexico since the day we met. (Literally.) It looks as if it’s finally going to happen.

A friend of ours has owned land in southern New Mexico for over a decade. The land is isolated, and our friend is in her mid-70s, so her kids really don’t want her out there alone. She made us a good deal on the half acre, and we plan to be out there early next month.

At first I thought we should haul the fifth wheel out there with us, but then we started thinking about costs. The fifth wheel would need new tires, and The Man said the bearings would need to be repacked (whatever that means). We were going to have to ask a friend with an old truck that can pull a fifth wheel to haul ours, which would mean paying for his gas as well as our own and offering him a couple hundred bucks for his trouble. I quickly realized we were better off selling the fifth wheel and living in our vans on the property for the next couple months, then building some simple living spaces in the fall.

We reached similar conclusions about the solar set-up and the storage shed. Potential buyers of the fifth wheel would want electricity and a place to store their extra things. The place would be easier to sell with the amenities. Besides, where would we store the six solar panels (and three deep-cycle batteries) while we were away from the land in the summer? How would we fit the shed’s metal panels in my van (in addition to all my belongings) to transport them to our new place? It made more sense to leave those things behind and use the money we got from the sale to buy new things. I’m looking forward to a solar set-up on my van (!!!) and a new shed on the property.

I’m also looking forward to saving a lot of money in New Mexico. Gone will be the days of rent. Sure, the $550 I pay to stay in the desert RV park is nominal, but $550 is $550. I’d rather not pay it if I don’t have to. Taxes on the land are cheap, so I’ll be saving most of that yearly expenditure.

We haven’t looked into car insurance yet, but we suspect it’s going to be a lot less expensive than what we’ve been paying in Arizona. A close friend told me her insurance rates dropped dramatically when she left Arizona and changed her domicile to New Mexico.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re only going to be about 15 miles from a town with a real supermarket. Where we are now, we can drive 10 miles to a town with a small grocery store, or we can drive more than 85 miles to a city with real supermarkets. The store in the small town charges two to three times more than the city supermarkets charge. In our new place, a 15 mile drive will take us to affordable food and inexpensive ice and a public library and three thrift stores and a big hardware store and and and…

This is one of those saguaros I will miss.

Of course, New Mexico is where The Man and I want to be. I’ve grown to appreciate Arizona, and I’ve grown to love the Sonoran Desert (those saguaros!), but I’ll be super happy to be in New Mexico again, to have a yellow license plate, to experience the Land of Enchantment morning, noon, and night.

I took the photos in this post.

Still Breathing

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For two months I sold my jewelry and shiny rocks (and my book and the hats I made and my Rubber Tramp Artist stickers) at a farmers market in a small southern Arizona town. The market was held on Saturday mornings, from 9 am until noon. Minimal produce was sold there, but vendors offered bread and sweets made from scratch; jellies and jams produced locally and in small batches; hand-made soaps, lotions, and balms; and more craft items than you could shake a stick at.

Most of the people who visited the market wear elderly, although plenty of those folks were healthy and in good shape. A few children came through with their parents and grandparents, and teenagers were seldom sighted.

There wasn’t much money in the town, and many days I earned my dollars one bracelet at a time. I was grateful for every little sale that helped me get by, and I often looked at my sales in terms of $2 sacks of ice.

I saw many of the same people several times over the two months I sold there. I think some people saw the market as their weekly social event. Some folks stopped and looked at my wares every time they were there (perhaps wondering if I’d gotten anything new) and others bypassed me after the first time they determined I had nothing of interest to them.

I saw one man a handful of times at the market during those two months. He was an older man with grizzled stubble on his unshaven face. He wore a ball cap advertising his status as a Vietnam era veteran and worn work clothes. What made me remember him wasn’t how he looked. What made me remember him was the same joke he told me every time I saw him.

Good morning, I”d say when he walked up to my tables. How are you today?

I’m good, he’d say enthusiastically. I woke up breathing this morning! At my age, that’s a good thing!

At that point I’d say something positive like Oh! That’s great!

I tell my wife, he’d always continued, “Honey, no matter how much I love you, if I wake up and I’m not breathing, get as far away from me as possible.” That would be enough to put anyone in a bad mood. Then he’d laugh at his own joke, and I’d laugh too, mostly just to be polite.

I never saw him with a woman, and I never asked him where his wife was on any given morning. If she was dead and he wanted to pretend she was still alive, that was ok with me. I wasn’t going to force him to admit anything to me.

I wonder if he made the same joke to every vendor or if from one visit to the next he forgot he had used it on me already. He never bought anything from me. After he made his joke, he moved on.

He seemed like a nice man. I was always glad to see he was still breathing.

My Life Now

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In late January of 2018, I bought an old fifth wheel out in the desert. The fifth wheel is almost as old as I am, and I don’t think it would stay together if I tried to take it on the road. I imagine hooking it up to a tow vehicle and getting up to 50 or 60 miles per hour on the highway only to have pieces of the fifth wheel start to fly off. Wind and vibration might peel the metal walls from the frame, allowing my life (or at least my material possessions) to be sucked out one by one. None of that for me, thanks; my fifth wheel is stationary.

The RV (actually my winter home and not used for mere recreation) came with solar panels and deep cycle batteries. Everything was already hooked up. I can charge my laptop and cell phone inside, and when the sun goes down (and it’s dark by 6 pm in the desert in the fall and winter), I turn on electric lights, just like people in conventional homes do. The difference of course is that folks in conventional homes receive a bill for their electricity each month. The other difference is that on cloudy or rainy days, folks in conventional homes don’t worry about running out of power.

I have running water. To be more specific, I have cold running water. The fifth wheel has no water heater, so that water that comes from the faucet is cool in the fall and winter. Since we don’t cook meat, cold water and dish soap works for washing dishes. I wash my hands and face with water from the faucet, but I buy my drinking water from one of the reverse osmosis machines in town.

Top two-thirds of photo shows blue sky and clouds. Bottom third shows sunset and silhouette of building in lower right corner.
Shower house at sunset

When I want to take a shower, I go to one of the four shower houses in the RV park where the fifth wheel is sits. Cold water showers are included in the price of the rent. Since I hate cold showers, I feed quarters into the machine that magically allows the hot water to flow. The water is plenty hot, but sadly short. Lately I’ve been taking dollar showers. The Man is happy spending 50 cents to wash himself.

The RV park is nothing like the RV parking lots I’ve seen across the country. Nothing in the whole place is paved. Desert plants grow wherever they grow. Lots are not laid out uniformly; some are bigger than others and the RVs are oriented every which way. Some of the RVs are large (motor homes as big as Willie Nelson’s tour bus) and fancy (Airstreams and brand new fifth wheels) while many are like mine–old, sun-bleached, decrepit.

Mountains in the background. In the foreground a young saguaro grows amidst then bushes and a desert tree.
Desert plants growing wherever they grow

The people living in the desert are a mixed bag too. There are old desert rats who’ve been full-time residents for decades and newcomers tent camping in the desert for the first time. There are people who seem to have a lot of money (the ones in the giant motor homes and fancy RVs) and folks who are barely scraping by on social security dollars and food bank bread. Some people are social and participate in many activities down at the clubhouse, while others are practically hermits. In addition to Americans who come from as far as as Washington state and Maine, many Canadians come to the desert to escape their country’s harsh winters. It truly takes all kinds.

The people who want to be social can find a lot to do down at the clubhouse, starting with coffee in the morning. The park manager brews a fresh pot when she opens the office at 8 am, and for 25 cents a cup (or $10 upfront for the monthly plan) residents can gab and drink as much java as they can stomach. Since the closest McDonald’s is 50 miles away, the senior citizens gather here instead of the Golden Arches.

Other activities to participate in include hikes on Tuesdays, Bible study on Wednesdays, gentle exercise every morning, and card games several afternoons each week. A group of artists gathers on Mondays, and the crafters meet on Tuesdays. There’s a pancake breakfast on Thursday mornings and movies on Monday nights. Dancing is on Friday nights and the open mic for musicians happens on Saturday afternoons.

I participated in the crafting group once. I was invited, so I showed up. A dozen women and zero men sat around a couple of long tables pushed together. I was the youngest one there by at least 15 years, which didn’t bother me.

Let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves, the leader of the group said.

I had the distinct impression they wanted to do introductions so they could find out more about me. I was the only person in the group who didn’t include the number of children I had birthed in my introduction.

Early in December 2018, The Man said we should participate in the group hikes. He said we needed to get out of the house, get some exercise, and be more social. I agreed with at least the first two points.

Small, rugged, rocky hill with little vegetation in the background.  Cholla cactus in the foreground. Young saguaros without arms in the mid-range of the photo.
We saw this view during the group hike we went on .

Someday I’ll post a complete recap of the entire hiking adventure. For now I’ll say that what was advertised as a 3 and 1/2 hour hike took me and other slow folks over 5 hours to complete. When it was over, my hips ached, I was beat, and the rest of my day was shot. Even The Man was wiped out. He and I agreed the hiking group was not for us, but people ten, fifteen, and twenty years our senior didn’t seem to have half the trouble we did.

I’m glad to have a warm place to touch down in the winter. I wouldn’t want to be in the desert when summer temperatures soar above 110 degrees, but in fall and winter and the early days of spring when the average daytime temperature ranges from 87 degrees to 66 degrees and hard freezes are rare, I think the desert is a wonderful place to be. We don’t see snow and winter rains are infrequent. The sun shines most days, boosting both our electric power and our mood.

We do deal with desert winds. They blow and they blow, sometimes for days on end. Something about them can really agitate me, so being able to cook and wash up inside the fifth wheel is a huge blessing. I’ve had to do my housekeeping outside in the desert wind, and I’d rather not, thank you.

Of course, we have to figure out what to do when the mercury climbs. I for one don’t want to be in the desert much past the middle of April when it’s hot enough to make me grumpy. There are many questions to answer before The Man and I leave the fifth wheel. Where should we go? Together or separately? How will we earn money? What nature do we want to be close to? Where will we find cool temperatures?

I remind myself I don’t have to figure it all out today. Time will tell. The story will unfold.


You Gotta Pay Santa Claus

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christmas, christmas tree, decorationEarlier this year I borrowed a video called What Would Jesus Buy? from the public library. It starred Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, and I got The Man to watch it with me one night after the sun went down.

The movie documents Billy and the Choir’s cross-country road trip during the two weeks prior to Christmas to spread the message of the Church of Stop Shopping. They knew people wouldn’t totally stop shopping, especially not right before Christmas, but they hoped consumers would do some thinking before buying. In addition to the documentary’s titular question of (What would Jesus buy?) there are other questions the Church of Stop Shopping would like consumers to ask before making a purchase. Questions include the following:

Can I afford this?

Do I (or my loved one) need this?

Where was this made?

Can I make my purchase at a locally owned business instead of at a big box store?

blur, bright, candyOne thing I learned watching this documentary is that many adults do everything possible to create the illusion that Santa Claus brings Christmas with no effort or monetary output on the part of the parents. In these families, children grow up believing Santa does all the work involved in making the holiday happen in exchange for a few cookies and a glass of lukewarm milk. This is not an illusion my parents felt it necessary to create.

As a small child, my mother taught me the harsh monetary reality of Christmas. I don’t remember exactly how young I was, but young enough that I couldn’t yet read. The lesson happened shortly after Christmas when I talking about all the presents I’d recently received from Santa. I told my mom it sure was great that Santa dropped off all those toys for free.

Oh no, my mother said while shaking her head. Those presents weren’t free. She went on to tell me that she and my dad had to pay Santa for all the presents he put under our tree on Christmas Eve. She went over to the shelf which held the family checkbook, stamps, pens, invoices for bills to be paid, and checks written but not yet mailed. She rumaged around in the stack of checks written but not sent and selected one to pull out of the pile.

She showed me the check. This is the check I had to write to Santa Claus to pay for the Christmas presents, she told me. box, celebrate, celebration

I’m sure my eyes got big. Santa Claus had to be paid? Of course, I couldn’t read the name on the “pay to the order of ” line, but this was decades before I realized my mother is a habitual and casual liar. If she said the check was for Santa Claus, I believed her.

Some would say it was a harsh lesson, but I think it was a valuable one. Even little kids can begin to learn there’s no free lunch, not even at Christmas time.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-bright-candy-celebration-260470/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/christmas-xmas-christmas-tree-decoration-17795/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/box-celebrate-celebration-christmas-264988/.

Hitchhikers in Black

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Our jobs on the mountain ended, and The Man and I left California. We weren’t quite sure what our next move should be, so as we’ve done in past times of indecision, we headed to New Mexico. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was still valid, so we decided to spend some time at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup.

We arrived at Bluewater Lake early on Saturday afternoon. We drove through the different camping areas until we found a fairly flat campsite with a tree big enough to provide some shade. We spent the afternoon relaxing. Later in the day we set up our stove and had dinner before the sun set.

The next morning The Man decided he wanted coffee. He didn’t just want a cup of coffee; he wanted to buy ground coffee and sugar and creamer so he could make himself a cup every morning. We used Google Maps and found a grocery store called John Brooks 24 miles away in Milan. I climbed into the drivers seat and The Man rode shotgun for our little road trip.

It was before 8am when we set out. I slowly drove the van past the houses just outside the park, then picked up speed as I got closer to Interstate 40. As I approached the eastbound onramp, I saw three people standing on the side of the road just past the entrance.

The first thing I noticed was that all three of them were dressed in black. Gang members, a judgmental little voice in my head whispered.

The second thing I noticed was that they were all Native Americans. Call it white guilt if you want, but I particularly try to help people of color. Sure, I try to help everyone who needs a hand, but I feel I have a particular responsibility to help folks whose ancestors were oppressed by my ancestors.

Should we stop? I asked The Man as we approached.

He thought about it. No.

You don’t think we should stop? I asked in surprise.

The Man helps people too. He believes in helping people. I’m not sure why he said no. Maybe it was because there were three hitchhikers and my van only has two seats. Realistically, where would we put them? Maybe it was because three dudes in black standing on an onramp seemed a little sketchy.

I drove past the people, and after The Man got a good look at them, he said I should stop.

I pulled onto the shoulder of the onramp, and The Man got out of the van to talk to the people. Turns out there Group of People on Eventwere two men and a woman. They were Native, as I originally thought, and they were certainly dressed in black. While they may or may not have had gang affiliation, they were not on gang business that Sunday morning. They were on ROCK business, as in rock-n-roll. They were trying to get to Albuquerque for that night’s Ozzy Osbourne farewell concert.

The Man ushered the woman into the passenger seat and got in the back of the van with the two men. The Man sat on the bed, and the young men sat on the floor. Of course Jerico the dog barked at them, thinking they were new friends who obviously should be playing ball with him.

The woman was probably in her early 20. I apologized to her that we were only going about twenty miles down the road, but she seemed grateful for even the short ride. She was pretty excited about the concert, even though she had school the next day.

What are you studying? I asked her.

She was studying welding. Once she received her certificate, she was going travel. She wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. She thought she’d go to Alaska too. She’d heard there were lots of welding jobs in Alaska. She’d heard welder’s helpers—the people who handed tools and swept up—earned $16 an hour there.

I asked her where she’d grown up. I was making chit chat, but I was curious too.

She’d grown up in New Mexico and Arizona. Her dad’s family was from Arizona and her Mom’s family was from New Mexico. Her dad’s family was more traditional, more conservative she told me. In Arizona you had to do things a certain way. In New Mexico it didn’t matter so much how you did things, as long as you got things done. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to carrying out a religious ceremony or cooking stew, but my experience of New Mexico being peopled with laid back folks seemed to be in line with what she’d grown up with there.

As we approached exit 79, I was glad to see both a Love’s travel center and a Petro truck stop right off the interstate. There would be a lot more traffic there than the Ozzy fans would have found at the end of the onramp where we’d picked them up. I don’t have a lot of hitchhiking experience, but I suspected the trio would have better luck getting a ride if they were able to approach drivers and politely ask for what they needed. If three young people in black by the side of the road made me and The Man hesitate, the average driver was not going to stop for them. However, if a driver could talk to the Ozzy pilgrims and realize they were harmless, well, that would certainly increase their chances of getting a ride.

I asked the group if they preferred to be dropped at the Love’s or the Petro, and they opted for the Petro. I pulled into the truck stop’s parking lot, and they got out of the van amid thanks and good cheer.

I hope they made it to the Ozzy show and had a rockin’ good time. I only regret that financial considerations kept me from driving them all the way to Albuquerque.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-on-event-1047443/.

 

Pickup Line

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I think a man tried to pick me up in the 99 cent store.

The city I went to on my days off from work on the mountain was looking rougher all the time. Every time I went down, it seemed like I was seeing more people pushing shopping carts around town, more people popping out from between buildings where they’d obviously spent the night. When I slept in my van in the parking lot of the 24 hour supermarket, other people there were obviously trying to get some shut-eye in their vehicles. All to say either times were increasingly harder in the central California town, or I had started noticing all the people struggling.

In late July, I was in my new favorite place for bargain shopping, the 99 Cents Only store. Of course, some of the items in the store cost more than 99 cents, making the name of the place more than a little confusing, but that’s corporate America for you, always trying to mislead and take advantage of the consumer.

I especially liked the closeout baskets that I’d sometimes find at the front of the store. One morning I’d found the basket full of organic chocolate bars priced at 4 for 99 cents. Another time I’d found bags of fancy sweet potato chips marked at 4 for 99 cents. On a third visit, small cans of sliced jalapeños were going for (you guessed it) 4 for 99 cents. Other great bargains I’d found there included cans of organic refried beans and packages of shelf-stable tofu for 99 cents each.

Shallow Focus Photography of BananasOn the day in question, I was in the back of the store in the produce section. My friend Meg and I were going to make s’morenanners (bananas stuffed with mini marshmallow and chocolate chips, then cooked in the coals of a campfire), and I’d put myself in charge of getting the best price on bananas. The regular bananas at the 99 Cents Only store were 49 cents a pound, which was already cheaper than the going rate on bananas at any other supermarket in town. However, the “extra ripe” bananas were only 33 cents a pound! Score!

It was a hot day outside—probably pushing 100 degrees if not already there. I was wearing a too tight tank top and unflattering cotton pants in an attempt to stay cool. I’m sure my hair was a flat mess, but I (obviously) wasn’t giving much thought to how I looked. I wanted to get my errands done as quickly as possible and get back up the mountain.

After I found a bunch of decent looking extra ripe bananas held together with red tape alerting the world of their bargain status, I texted Meg to let her know my banana mission was accomplished. During my texting, I realized my cart was blocking the entire banana display. Ooops! Then I realized there was a man standing nearby trying to look at the bananas.

Excuse me, I said and wrestled my shopping cart out of the way.

The fellow was in my age group or maybe a little younger and had dark hair. He said, No problem and gave me a big smile before saying, It’s a hot day in paradise.

Oh no! A big smile? We were in Central California, not the Deep South. In my experience, people in Central California do not give each other big smiles in the produce aisle. Besides, I looked like sweaty hell. If this stranger in the 99 Cent Only store was being super nice to me, it had to be because he wanted something. In my experience, men do not hit on fat women in ill-filling clothes with unwashed hair because they (the men) think they (the women) are cute. I had the distinct feeling this guy was up to something, and I wanted nothing to do with whatever scheme or scam he was trying to hatch.

I maneuvered my cart away from the banana display and toward the front of the store. I hope I didn’t damage the smiling man’s self-esteem.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/fruits-grocery-bananas-market-4621/.

 

Let the Sounds of Nature Prevail

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La Sal mountains near Moab, Utah

We hadn’t been awake long when The Lady of the House pulled back the curtain between the van’s front seats and the living area and looked out the windshield. She reported a dog running around between my van and the camp next door. As far as she could tell, the dog was not accompanied by a human.

The Lady and I were on an epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. We’d spent the night in a free BLM camping area on Willow Springs Road northwest of Moab. We were going to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park that morning, and we were up early in hopes of arriving in time to get a site in the Park’s Willow Flat Campground. When we spilled out of the van, we found chilly air and frost on the table we’d set up the night before, but we were not deterred. We were determined to get on the road as soon as possible.

As we prepared our simple breakfast (oatmeal for The Lady and eggs and cheese on a flour tortilla for me), the dog The Lady had seen earlier continued to run around unattended. It tried to come into our camp, but I shooed it away, telling it to Go home! It finally settled down next to the small SUV parked across the road from us.

While we ate, a young woman emerged from the tent pitched a short distance beyond the small SUV. From the way she reacted to the dog, we could tell they were traveling companions.

The young woman bustled around her vehicle, opening and closing doors, but I didn’t really pay much attention to her until she reached into the vehicle and turned on its radio. A dreadful slow jam destroyed the morning quiet.

Granted, it was past the customary 6am cutoff for quiet time on public land, and the young woman was not blasting the tunes. However, The Lady and I could clearly hear the music across the road in our camp, which means to me the music was too loud. I would have probably been more forgiving if it had been afternoon, but the music was destroying the morning peace. I might not have minded as much had the songs I was subjected to been some that I liked, but the music the stranger enjoyed was grating noise to my ears. However, even if she had been playing the Grateful Dead, I still would have thought the music was being played too loudly and too early for public land.

I once read a publication from the Forest Service that said people on public land should “let the sounds of nature prevail.” That mandate has stuck with me. People are ostensibly out in nature because they want to enjoy nature. When I’m out in nature, I want to enjoy silence or, at most, some energetic bird song. I do not venture into nature to listen to over-produced radio music.

I didn’t say anything to the young woman. I didn’t walk over to her camp to let her know her music was bothering me or suggest she find a portable device and earbuds. The Lady and I were leaving once we cleaned up from breakfast after all. I just gritted my teeth while we packed up and hoped we’d find more considerate neighbors in the National Park.

I took the photo in this post.

Not a Hoarder

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Early in 2013 I lived in a large Texas city without a vehicle. I’d had a van, but it was gone. Friends from college let me live with them while I earned money to buy myself another van. I depended on Craigslist a lot in those days.

I’d responded to a Craigslist ad placed by an elderly psychiatrist looking for a house and dog sitter. I got that job, which led to a regular gig cooking and cleaning and doing yardwork for her. I supplemented that income by scouring Craigslist for one-time money-making opportunities. I participated in two studies at the local university, one of which required me to lie about my past drug use, one of which required me to run on a treadmill until I thought I would puke, and one of which required me to climb into MRI machine and lie without moving while the apparatus recorded my brain thinking.

One day I saw an ad seeking someone to help prepare for a garage sale. I emailed the woman who’d placed the ad; later we talked on the phone. She agreed to hire me and pay me $10 an hour to help her set up her sale.

On the morning of the day before the sale, my friend drove me to the woman’s house. She lived near the university in a spacious home with a huge backyard. She was moving, she explained, and she was trying to sell most of her belongings. I think she’d been living in that house a long time and had accumulated a lot of junk she didn’t want to haul across town, much less across the country. She hoped to make some extra money by selling what she no longer wanted.

She was setting up some items for sale in her living room, but most of the sale would take place in her backyard. My job was to sort the contents of large cardboard boxes piled in the backyard and artfully place like with like.

I sorted through a lot of clothing. Some items were hung on a saggy clothesline strung between two trees, but most of the items were folded and stacked on a tarp on the ground. The clothing was nothing special—no costumes or designer pieces. Mostly it was cheap stuff, garments most people would have dumped at a thrift store the moment they fell out of style.

Although I’d said nothing judgmental about the quantity or quality of the items for sale, several times throughout the day, the woman for whom I was working assured me she was not a hoarder. I didn’t really care if she was a hoarder or not. She was paying me for my time, and the working conditions weren’t horrendous. Besides, as I reassured her each time she brought up hoarding, having a garage sale probably meant she wasn’t a hoarder. Hoarders don’t have garage sales, right?

Then I found the Hammer pants. Remember MC Hammer? According to Wikipedia, he enjoyed the height of his popularity and commercial success from approximately 1988 to 1998 with hits such as “U Can’t Touch This” and “Pray.” Now he appears in commercials for Command hooks around Christmas time. I don’t know what MC Hammer wears now, but back in the day he wore Hammer pants, an article of clothing that another Wikipedia article describes as

customized/modified baggy pants tapered at the ankle with a sagging rise made suitable for hip-hop dancing…Hamer pants were popularized in the 1980s and 1990s by rapper MC Hammer who would entertain/dance in them…

This woman I was working for on a spring day in 2013 was going to try to sell a pair of Hammer pants!

I didn’t say anything. For once I kept my big mouth shut. This woman was paying me, and it wasn’t really my place to judge.  She probably wasn’t actually a hoarder with a psychological disorder, but holding onto a pair of Hammer pants at least fifteen years past their heyday seems like an irrational thing to do. Did she think they would come back into fashion? Did she think someone would pay top dollar for them? I didn’t even ask. I simply folded them and put them in a stack with the other pants.