Category Archives: Uncategorized

Line for the Restroom

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It turned out to be an unusually busy Monday at the Mercantile. The Fourth of July was two days away, and lots of people must have taken vacation time and left the city to visit our mountain. The other store clerk was about to leave for the day, so I took one more bathroom break.

This photo shows the restroom building the women were lined up outside of. The lined formed on the left, outside the door marked “women.”

When I stepped onto the Mercantile’s porch, I saw quite a line of women outside one of the restrooms, but not a single person standing in front of the other one. Those particular restrooms still had signs labeling the one on the right for men and the one on the left for women, but in reality, the restrooms are identical. Each has a hole in the floor leading to a lined pit in the ground. Over the hole in the floor sits a tall plastic toilet that provides a seat and a lid and some distance from what’s in the hole in the ground. Any person of any gender can pull down pants or lift up skirt, sit on the seat, and deposit waste material into the pit. When the pit is full of waste material, a pumper truck (like those that clean out porta-potties) comes up the mountain, pumps out the waste material, and hauls it away.

I’ve never been one for strict restroom segregation, especially when the restroom consists of one toilet behind a door that locks. While I would not saunter into a men’s room with a row of urinals and multiple stalls, if I’m alone with the toilet, what difference does the sign on the door make? Yep, I’m the gal at the bar who’d go to the deserted men’s room if there was a line in front of the ladies’. I’m not going to pee my pants in order to help uphold some made-up gender norms.

So I walked out of the Mercantile and saw that line of women and girls in front of one restroom and not a single person in front of the other restroom. I knew which one I’d be using despite the designation on the door.

As I walked out of the Mercantile, a grown woman was yelling through the closed restroom door to the person who’d just gone in, Don’t sit on the seat! Don’t sit on the seat!

By the time I approached the little building housing the two pit toilets, a little girl had walked up to the still closed restroom door and was screeching, Hurry up Savannah! Do you know there are seven people in line, Savannah?

I bypassed the entire group, and I approached the restroom which had no line. I knocked on the door and received no response, so I pulled it open. The room was empty and not even dirty! I locked the door and did what needed to be done.

Savannah may have exited the other restroom by the time I came out, but at least one more woman had joined the line. Still there was no one waiting for the restroom I was exiting. Apparently these ladies needed specific permission to throw off their gender shackles and use the unoccupied restroom. I would be the superhero to give them their permission.

There’s no waiting in that one, I said to the line of woman and tossed my head to indicate the empty restroom.

But…that’s…we thought…one of the adult women stammered.

It’s all the same hole, I said matter-of-factly as I strode toward the Mercantile.

When I looked back the adult woman who didn’t believe in sitting on the seat and several of the girls had formed a line in front of the restroom I’d just used. I’m proud to have helped them make their gender shackles just a little weaker.

I took the photo in this post.

Follow Me on Social Media!

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If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you can follow me there!

You can see my handmade creations, like this collage, on my Blazin’ Sun Creations Facebook page.

I have three Facebook pages you can follow: Blaize Sun, Rubber Tramp Artist, and Blaizin’ Sun Creations. The Blaize Sun page is about me as an author and a person. Each of my blog posts pops up on the Rubber Tramp Artist page on the same day it appears here. I sometimes also post photos and updates on my life and travels there. The Blaizin’ Sun Creations page is where I share artwork I’ve created that is for sale. If you follow my pages, you can stay up-to-date on what I’m doing through your Facebook account. Of course, I would be so pleased if you like any or all of my pages. You can also leave a review of anything I’ve made that you now own, this blog, or my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods.

I’ve been having a lot of fun on Instagram since I joined almost two months ago. You can find me @rubbertrampartist. I love sharing photographs there. Sometimes I take a great shot, but the photo doesn’t necessarily have a place in one of my blog posts. Instagram lets me easily share the photos you might otherwise never see. I do mention my blog and my writing on Instagram, but the photos in my account show a broader portion of my life, everything from the bargains I find (hello 99 cent organic polenta and a huge jar of Southwestern 505 salsa with certified Hatch, NM green chiles for $2.47) to the trees I see on  my lunch break. If you already like my blog, and particularly if you enjoy my photos, follow me on Instagram!

Bargain salsa! Hatch green chiles and only $2.47 for that big jar!

I’m not on Twitter or Pinterest. Should I be? Let me know what you think by commenting below.

I took the photos in this post. They originally appeared in my Instagram account.

French Fries

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We were four dirty traveling kids heading from Santa Nella, CA to Oklahoma City, OK. They were a Native American family; I don’t know where they were coming from or where they were headed. We met one night at a McDonald’s on Indian Land in New Mexico.

I was with Mr. Carolina, The Okie, and Lil C. Mr. Carolina had met the two young men at a truck stop in Santa Nella. They’d gotten stuck at the truck stop when the cheap bicycles they’d bought to travel across California began to fall apart. They were trying to get to Oklahoma City, then on to Kansas City, MO in time to see Lil C’s mom on her birthday. I’d agreed to rescue them from their truck stop purgatory, but the four of us traveled together through seven states before our time as companions was over.

Mr. Carolina and I had stopped at the same McDonald’s right off I-40 late one night on our way to California. We’d been with Sweet L and Robbie and the couple who had whisper fights several times a day. We’d taken that particular exit because the atlas showed a rest area there. We found the rest area, but a locked gate kept us out. We were all tired, so I pulled the van into the parking lot of the 24-hour gas station/convenience store/fast food emporium. The kids melted into the darkness to find bushes to sleep under, and I spent an uninterrupted night in my van.

Now we were back at that McDonald’s off the 40. The gate to the rest area was still locked, but more than a month later, the late autumn air was quite cooler. We’d all be sleeping in my van tonight, me in my bed; Mr. Carolina on the floor between the back passenger seats, his feet brushing the doghouse in the front; The Okie in one of the back passenger seats; and Lil C in the front passenger seat. It was crowded (more for the boys than for me), but it was worth it for everyone to stay warm.

Before we slept, we went into McDonald’s.

We had a few bucks, enough for each of us to get a McDouble, which only cost a dollar at the time. I don’t remember if we discussed French fries, if one of the boys asked for fries and I had to say we couldn’t afford them or if I silently longed for their greasy saltiness. I envied the other people in the restaurant who had fries, but I didn’t complain about what we lacked. The Universe gave us what we needed, and if The Universe wasn’t offering fries this night, we must not need them.

After being handed our tray of food, the boys and I sat at a table in the middle of the dining room. Our last bath had happened at least a week before, a soapless affair in a natural hot spring. We certainly didn’t look clean. We were probably a little too loud, a little too boisterous, but I tried to keep all of our cursing to a minimum. Even trying our best to appear normal, I’m sure we stuck out.

The Native American family sat one table closer to the counter. They were quiet and conservatively dressed. Maybe they were from Acoma Pueblo. Maybe they were Diné. The adults (parents? grandparents?) were probably in their early 50s; the two boys with them looked to be young teenagers. Each of them had a wrapped sandwich and in the middle of the table sat two large cartons of French fries.

The woman spoke softly to the boys. I wouldn’t have known she was speaking if I hadn’t seen her lips move. One of the boys nodded, picked up one of the cartons of fries, stood up, and carried the potatoes over to our table. His family wanted us to have these, he told us quietly as he gently placed the fries on the tray that still sat in the middle of our table.

We were joyously rambunctious with our thanks. Those French fries made us the happiest people in the room.

I manifested those fries! I thought. The Universe sent them to us because I wanted them so badly!

If the potatoes were a gift from The Universe, it was working through a kind woman who decided to share her family’s small abundance with four dirty traveling kids who couldn’t scrape together even a dollar to buy their own small bag of fries.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-wood-pattern-lunch-141787/.

Really?

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The Lady of the House and I arrived at the visitor center at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the day. We may have been the first visitors in after the doors were unlocked.

Two people were working at the information desk/checkout counter that morning, a young man with a beard and an older woman with straight grey hair. They talked to each other as The Lady and I looked at the souvenirs in the corner of the building that served as a gift shop.

We hadn’t been in the building long when another visitor came inside. I didn’t pay her much mind, but from what I saw out of the corner of my eye, she was old enough to be my mother and well-dressed. She made a beeline to the counter where the Park Service employees stood.

I have a question, she told them, but I’m going to wait until my husband gets in here.

I don’t know why she even started talking before her husband made his entrance. I guess she was excited.

The husband walked in within minutes and the question turned out to concern the Elephant Hill Road.

The couple had a rented four-wheel-drive vehicle, and they wanted to take it exploring on Elephant Hill Road.

According to information about Needles District trails and roads issued by Canyonlands National Park,

One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads…

It would be ok to drive their rented vehicle there, wouldn’t it, the visitor woman asked confidentally.

I don’t recommend it, the Park Service employee with the straight grey hair said gravely.

Really? The tourist woman asked in a tone of voice that made it plain she couldn’t believe her plan to drive on Elephant Hill Road was being thwarted. It was obvious she thought the Park Service worker was wrong.

Does your vehicle have a wench? the Park Service employee asked the couple. Do you have the capability to self-rescue?

Oh no, the husband said. Nothing like that.

I don’t recommend it, the worker repeated. If you get stuck, the Park Service won’t tow you out, and you’ll have to pay $2,500 for a towing company to get you out.

The Park Service employee asked them what they hoped to see, then helped them decide to go partway down Elephant Hill Road, but turn around before the road became too rugged for their vehicle.

(Let me say here, every employee I’ve encountered doing his or her job at any of the National Parks I’ve visited has been absolutely friendly and helpful, even when a visitor has been asking for something ridiculous or impossible. Without exception, the employees of National Parks I’ve seen interacting with the public have been professional to a degree I find awe inspiring. I consider folks who work for the National Parks in a class above all service industry employees, save perhaps for those employed in some capacity by Mickey Mouse. )

When we got back in the van, I asked The Lady if she’d heard that tourist woman get thwarted.

Oh yeah, The Lady said. She seemed so sure of herself.

The Lady and I made up the following story about the tourist couple: The woman had her heart set on driving Elephant Hill Road and was trying to convince her husband that the vehicle they had rented could handle it. The husband was skeptical.

Fine! We could image the woman saying, We’ll ask at the visitor center.

The way she said, Really? made it clear she hadn’t expected to be told no.

The way she said, Really? made me think she hears the word “no” on a highly infrequent basis.

I took these photos in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Judgement

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When The Man picked me up from work on Friday afternoon, he was distressed because the needle on the van’s gas gauge was in the red. He was afraid we would run out of gas before we went back down the mountain in four days. I knew (from stressful experience) that even once the needle is in the red, I have enough gas to get down the mountain. I didn’t know if I had enough gas for us to drive the six miles back and forth to work for four days and make it down the mountain, so it looked like we would have to take an unplanned side trip to civilization.

There was gas on the mountain, 25 miles and 45 minutes away, in one pump behind a general store. We could have gone there, but once before my debit card hadn’t worked when I tried to pay at that pump. By the time I got off work, I didn’t know if the general store would be open when we got there. We’d be in big trouble if we drove 25 miles to find the card reader wouldn’t accept my card, the store was closed, and we couldn’t get gas.

We decided to drive down the mountain to our second gas option. After an hour of twisting mountain roads, we found ourselves in one of those small towns that’s a hub for outdoor tourism but doesn’t have much else going for it. If it weren’t for nearby camping and fishing and whitewater rafting, this town would probably shrivel up and blow away.

I knew by the time we drove an hour down the mountain, filled up the gas tank, and drove an hour back up the mountain, it would be dark and cold, and we’d be not just tired, but exhausted. I knew cooking dinner in our outdoor kitchen was going to be miserable, and I wanted no part of it. I knew the one grocery store in town had a hot deli, so we decided we’d grab our dinner there.

After spending $80 and not quite filling my gas tank, we found ourselves in front of the hot deli case looking at fried chicken, pizza strips containing pepperoni, and meaty lasagna. What were a couple of non-meat eaters to do? We opted for a pound of potato wedges and called it a night.

We had to get in the regular check-out line to pay for our potatoes. We were third in line.

A young couple was first in line. The young man looked like he was barely out of his teens; maybe he wasn’t. He had scraggly facial hair, baggy clothes over a scrawny body, and a warm beanie pulled down low against the late spring chill. The woman with him was young too, with either a deathly pallor to her face or makeup to make it seem that way. Her hair was dyed a light blue and pulled up and twisted into two little blue buns on the top of her head.

The ages of the next couple in line were more difficult to determine. The male half of the couple seemed to be in his mid-30s, but the female half seemed older. I wasn’t sure if she was his mother who’d birthed him at a very young age or if she was his wife who’d aged in a hard-life sort of way. The woman was plump, with perfectly straight, shoulder length hair, no bangs. She wore a tasteful, loose and flowy blouse and seemed like an ordinary middle age woman from a small town. The fellow was tall and had probably once been athletic, but his body was getting middle age soft. He had on unremarkable clothes, a ball cap, and tattoos on the arm I could see.

When we walked up to the line, the fellow wearing the ball cap was talking to customers waiting in the next check-out lane, something about a promotion he’d gotten. His conversation ended, and we all stood quietly for a moment against the bustle of the grocery store.

The fellow with the ball cap stood facing forward, and I heard him call out loudly enough to be heard by those standing immediately around him, but maybe not loudly enough to be heard by the object of his scorn, Hey! What’s wrong with your hair? He was of course talking to the young woman in line ahead of him. He had a good ol’ boy grin on his face, knowing he could most probably get away with saying whatever mean thing he wanted because the (boy)friend of the woman with the blue hair wasn’t likely to fight him.

I don’t know if the woman with the blue hair heard the rudeness. She never looked our way and her face never betrayed any feelings. The rude man’s lady companion did hear him. She gave him a nasty look and the tiniest shake of her head, but nothing more. Mother or wife, I’m sure she was all too familiar with his asshole antics.

The young man with the blue-haired woman heard the remark too. He glanced over with a stoner’s look of What? on his face. The mean man broadened his smile in a we’re all friends here gesture directed at the young man, who gave back the barest minimum of a smile. He, like me, knew we were not all friends here, but he must have realized flight was better than fight in this situation.

About that time, a cashier opened the register to our right and called for the next customer in line. I quickly ushered The Man over to the newly opened register. I Did. Not. Want. to stand next to the fellow with the ball cap any longer.

As I purchased our pound of potatoes, I could hear the fellow with the ball cap and the cashier (a young woman with her dark hair piled on top of her head and false eyelashes the size of caterpillars) discussing the woman’s blue hair, which had apparently made quite an impression on them.

I looked up and saw the fellow with the ball cap had tattoos on his other arm too, as well as the outline of the state of California tattooed on his neck. I’d have thought someone with multiple tattoos would have been a little more accepting of someone with an unnatural hair color, but in this case, I was wrong.

I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to shout, Hey asshole! Let he without a stupid neck tattoo cast the first stone!

Discomfort

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I knew immediately that my homelessness made the woman uncomfortable.

I wasn’t trying to make her uncomfortable. I was simply speaking my truth, sharing my reality.

She was probably a few years older than I was. Her clothing (tasteful but not ostentatious) and her speech (no slang, proper grammar) marked her as belonging to the educated middle class. She had come to walk with her daughter in the Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk, and she seemed a little nervous, a little out of her element. Her daughter had wandered off, and the woman seemed to want to chat with someone so she wouldn’t feel awkward in her aloneness.

Women in my age group who think I’m of their social class seem to gravitate toward me when we’re in a group that makes them uncomfortable. I’m educated, and I speak proper, mostly unaccented English. My hair is streaked with grey and my tattoos and the gaps where my rotten teeth have been pulled are mostly invisible. I appear to be a “normal” older professional woman, and other “normal” older professional women seem to think I’m safe to interact with.

I don’t remember how this particular woman and I began chatting. I think she joined me at a table for a meal. Maybe she and I lingered after the other folks at the table left. In whatever way the conversation started, I could soon tell she thought we had similar lives.

I also don’t remember what question she asked me about myself, but my response was that I lived in my van. I immediately picked up on her discomfort. It wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned living in my van to a woman in my age group and immediately sensed her discomfort.

Maybe the conversation went like this: Maybe the woman asked me where I lived and I said I lived in my van. Maybe then she asked me why I lived in my van, and I gave her my stock/true answer that I’d been homeless before I started living in the van, so the van was a step up.

However the topic came up, I knew my talk of homelessness as a real part of my life made my table companion nervous.

I suspect when a woman thinks I’m like her but then finds out I’ve been really homeless and I’m currently living-in-a-van homeless, she gets a little bit freaked out because she’s identified with me. If I was/am homeless, and she and I are somehow alike, she realizes she could end up homeless too. I think it’s a very disconcerting realization for some women.

Upon hearing about my living situation, this particular woman launched into a story about how one night after eating at a restaurant, she gave her leftovers to a homeless man. I guess she wanted me to know she was down with and kind to homeless people. I resisted the urge to explain that street kids call asking folks for their leftovers “white boxing,” presumably because restaurants often pack up leftovers in white Styrofoam containers.

The story was long and detailed, and the woman’s nervousness was obvious. Our whole point of interaction had become about her trying to convey to me how ok she was with homeless people (and therefore ok with me). Suddenly I wasn’t an individual sitting in front of her, but a member of a group that caused her discomfort.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this woman’s story. I think I managed, I’m sure the man appreciated the food, but how was I to know what the man thought of her offering?

I was almost sorry I’d mentioned living in my van. I hadn’t wanted to cause the woman distress. On the other hand, I wondered why I needed to hide my reality in order to save someone else from discomfort. I don’t have to be ashamed of having been totally homeless or of being living-in-a-van homeless. Being homeless isn’t a moral failure. Being homeless doesn’t make anyone a bad person.

The woman’s discomfort made me uncomfortable too. I felt like I had done something wrong, even though logically I knew I hadn’t. The woman rambled on with a story I didn’t really want to hear. I excused myself as soon as I could and left the table feeling alienated and awkward. I wished I could be as normal as people thought I was.

Karen

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Photo of Black Flat Screen MonitorHer nametag read “Karen,” and she was our cashier at a Wal-Mart in a medium-sized city in central California.

The Man and I had popped into Wal-Mart to get a few supplies before we headed back up the mountain. The Man had a 12-pack of socks and a comb, and I had a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of paper towels, and a bottle of bleach. We usually go through the self-check line, but that morning I wanted my cash back partially in ones so I could feed the water dispensing machine. I knew the self-checkout machines would only spit out twenties, so I needed to deal with a human to get the bills I wanted.

Karen had completely white hair styled in a way that seemed old-fashiond even for a woman I presumed to be about 70 years old. She asked me if we needed to buy a bag, and I said no, we’d just carry our purchases out in our arms.

We’re not from California, I told her, so we forget to bring in our own bags.

(In much of California, stores no longer provide flimsy plastic bags for free. Shoppers can bring in their own bags or purchase paper bags or slightly more sturdy plastic bags at the register.)

You’re lucky you’re not from California! Karen exclaimed.

I told her we worked in the National Forest, and I must have told her we traveled too, because she asked me What’s your favorite place? I told her I’d just been to Moab (she looked confused, so I added Utah) and I’d liked it very much, and I said I really like Taos, NM too.

What’s your favorite place? I asked her.

She’d never been out of California, she told me.

Well, what’s your favorite place in California? I asked.

Home, she replied with a laugh.

Where would you like to go? I persisted.

I’m 82 years old, she said, much to my surprise. I thought she was a dozen years younger. I’m scared to go anywhere, she told me.

I’m always shocked when I meet people who’ve never ventured even into a neighboring state. I suppose California is big enough to satisfy a lifetime of wanderlust, but I wonder if Karen traveled even the state of her birth. I just hope she was content to stay at home instead of being held there by fear.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-black-flat-screen-monitor-811103/.

Arizona Penny Presses

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The Lady of the House and I were on an epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At the first two tourist attractions we visited—bam! bam!—penny presses!

Penny presses outside the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark gift shop.

The first two penny presses we saw were outside the gift shop at the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark. The gift

shop—and the presses—were deep in the complex, well past the entrance where folks pay the admission fee. If you don’t plunk down $18 for admission, you’re not getting anywhere near those penny presses.

We saw the presses at the beginning of our visit, but we spent the little-less-than-an-hour before our guided tour (included in the price of admission) picking out postcards and a t-shirt for The Boy after freshening up in the restroom. We didn’t have time for immediate penny pressing.

After the tour, we made a quick exploration of the Discovery Center, then looked at the bottom of the crater with the free telescopic viewer. Then it was time for the penny press.

Turns out, The Lady of the House enjoys pressed pennies. Before we left town, she mentioned she was saving her  quarters to use in penny press machines. She was pleased to see those penny presses outside the gift shop.

First she had to pick the design she wanted on her penny. Should I get the picture of the crater or the picture of the meteor about to crash into the earth? she asked me.

You saw the crater, I reminded her, but you didn’t see the meteor.

That’s what I was thinking! she said, then began the penny pressing process.

She lined up her design choice and put in her coins. Then she turned, turned, turned the crank. Soon her souvenir penny clanked into the dispenser cup.

The second penny press we found was in Winslow, Arizona. The Lady had never been there, and she wanted to see the Standin’ on the Corner Park. We pulled off the I-40, and I navigated the van through the town to the park. We found a free spot half a block away to leave the van, then walked over to the famous corner.

On the way, we passed a gift shop across Kinsley Avenue from the park. Right outside the shop’s door stood a penny press machine.

Penny press in Winslow, Arizona.

After we took our photos in the Standing on the Corner Park, The Lady stood in front of the machine to choose her design. She’d used up all her quarters at the Meteor Crater gift shop, so after she picked out which penny design she wanted, she went inside the gift shop to get four quarters for a dollar. The woman working the cash register offered her pennies too, but The Lady said she had some. The worker said her pennies were bright and shiny, so The Lady accepted a few. The bright and shiny pennies did make for a nice souvenir after The Lady turned, turned, turned the crank.

At that point I started wondering if I should start collecting pressed pennies.

Fifty-one cents is a good price for a souvenir, The Lady told me.

My main concern was what I would do with a bunch of pressed pennies. Would they just sit in a bowl or a drawer? Would I ever remember to look at them?

The morning after the Arizona double penny press experience, I was lying in my bed, looking up at the ceiling of my van. There are three wooden strips, each about two inches wide running across the width of my van. I could glue pressed pennies to those wooden strips, I realized. I could display my collection in my van!

It’s too late to get a pressed penny from Meteor Crater, but maybe someday I’ll pass through Winslow again. I also know where to get a pressed penny when I go through Quartzsite, AZ; Baker, CA; and Las Vegas, NV. I’m sure my collection will grow in time.

I took the photos in this post.

Preston

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He said his name was Preston as he shook my hand.

We found ourselves sitting next to each other on a bench in a Catholic Charities office in a small mountain town. I was there to ask for a gas voucher so I could leave, and he was there to…I wasn’t quite sure why he was there.

He was repacking his bag, a stylish piece of carry-on luggage, when I arrived. I didn’t want to crowd him, but seating was limited, so I took the spot next to him.

He opened the conversation by asking me if I wanted some lotion. I bought myself some man lotion, he told me proudly while showing me the grey tube. Do you want this one they gave me? He offered me a pink tube. I politely declined, while wondering who “they” were.

He turned around and offered the lady lotion to the woman sitting in the row behind us. She too politely declined. Ok, I’ll just keep it, he said with certainty.

He and the woman behind him were having a conversation about something she said was going to get bigger. They talked as if the creature in question was in the room with us.

I had one, the woman said. I worked at a pet store when I was younger. It was six feet long, not including the tail.

What in the world? I wondered as I furtively looked over to see if he had a snake (is a specific part of a snake considered its tail?) or (Heaven forbid!) a rat. I understood the conversation was about an animal, but where was the animal? I turned almost all the way around in my seat and saw the woman was holding a beautiful, colorful, nearly iridescent lizard. The lizard, it turned out, belonged to Preston.

He’d recently bought the lizard from Pet Smart, he said. The lizard’s name was Horus. Preston said he had a cat too. The cat’s name was Isis. If he were to have a child one day, Preston said, he would name the child Zeus.

I said Zeus would be a pretty serious name to give a child. Those would be mighty big shoes to fill, I said.

Preston told me he did believe in the gods of Mount Olympus. He believed in all the gods. Some people would tell us, he said, that there was only one god, but I shouldn’t believe them because it wasn’t true.

I thought maybe he shouldn’t say such things while we sat in the lobby of the Catholic Charities office. It was true I hadn’t been Catholic in a long time, but I was pretty sure the Catholic faith was still holding on to the “one God” idea. I let the guy talk, however. It wasn’t my place to shush him.

We didn’t know who made us, Preston continued. We were all different. We were all made of different soil.

He didn’t seem to want my conversational input, so mostly I just listened.

The gentleman doing the screenings for travelers’ aid came out of the office and summoned the couple which included the woman who was holding Horus the lizard. She took the two steps necessary to hand the lizard to Preston.

Just put him on my back, Preston said, and she did.

So here I was, in the lobby of the Catholic Charities office, sitting next to a middle age African-American man wearing a baby blue Western shirt with ornate black decorative stitching over a grey t-shirt and carrying a fairly large lizard on his back. What an extraordinary world we live in!

Preston told his story in bits and pieces.

He’d been living on a nearby mountain, but his camp had been discovered by a very polite ranger. The ranger thought Preston’s camp of two tents (one for sleeping—he had a foldable futon mattress—and one for storage) was nicely done, but he said Preston had to move. Preston was going to move into the forest, and he said he was going to go far back into the trees where no one would ever find him.

It seemed like maybe this was where the Catholic Charities came into Preston’s life. Maybe someone from the organization was going to give him a ride to his new camping spot. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the Catholic Charities, he said, but he didn’t anyone to know where he was staying.

I told him it was supposed to get cold in two days, highs only in the mid-40s with a 70% chance of rain and possibly snow. (I’d seen the weather forecast, and this impending storm was the reason I wanted to leave not just my camping spot but the whole town.)

Preston wasn’t worried. He said camping among the trees would be a lot warmer than where he was currently set up on the mountain. The trees warmed the air, he said. Being under the trees was particularly warm, he said. He thought the fibers in the needles and leaves warmed the air. In the old days, he told me, before there were blankets, people covered themselves with leaves or hay to stay warm. He didn’t know exactly how it worked, but that’s what people did before blankets.

I said I thought the leaves or hay or needles held in a person own body heat to keep the person warm, and Preston allowed that might be the case.

I was most concerned for Horus the lizard. Even if it was warmer under the trees, the mid-40s was pretty cold for a lizard. How was he going to stay warm in a tent if the temperature dropped?

Preston’s biggest concern seemed to be the fact that the ranger had told him he could not have a charcoal fire. Preston’s plan for dinner had involved frying ham over hot coals. Now that plan was out, and I could tell he was disappointed. He had a plan B, however, which involved a can of tuna fish he’d been given.

He’d also been give bus passes, and he was going to ride the bus today, although he hated the bus. People talked too loud on the bus, he said. (Preston himself had a booming voice that rang against the walls of the drab waiting room.) People on the bus cursed for no reason, he said. Of course, he admitted, he cursed too, but not like the people on the bus who cursed for no reason. He was sorry if he had offended me with his cursing, he said. Did you curse? I asked. I didn’t even notice, which was the truth.

People on the bus also laughed for no reason, Preston told me. They’d start laughing and would just keep going and going. Maybe the laughers were on drugs, he allowed. He smoked some weed, he admitted, but it didn’t make him laugh like the people on the bus did.

It’s better to laugh than to cry, I interjected.

No! Preston said with conviction. It’s better to cry! Crying released emotion, he said and that made the person crying feel better.

He didn’t like the bus, he continued, but today he was going to take the bus because he was tired. He had to break camp in the next couple of days. It was going to be easier to carry his belongings down the mountain than it had been to haul them up, but it was still going to be a lot of work. Before he left, he had to scatter the rocks he’d used to demarcate his camp because the ranger had told him to make the area look like he’d never been there. He was going to haul the rocks to the edge of the hill, then push them over the edge so they could roll to the bottom.

The gentleman doing the screening for travelers’ aid came out of the office, and it was my turn to go in. I said good-bye to Preston, and we wished each other well. Horus the lizard was still clinging to Preston’s back.

What an extraordinary world we live in!

Helping Hand

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I’m not telling you this story so you’ll think I’m cool. I don’t think what I did was really so special. I’m telling you this story to inspire you to help someone who might need a hand.

I think we had just turned down Indian Route 15.

The Lady of the House and I were on our epic road trip through Arizona and Utah. We’d just left Winslow, where yes, we stood on the corner. Now we were on a long leg of the trip to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. We’d left the I-40 just east of Winslow, and were currently in the Navajo Nation.

I think we had just turned down Indian Route 15 when we saw the man and the woman standing next to a dusty SUV pulled off on the shoulder of the road. I don’t remember how we determined they were having trouble. They weren’t waving their arms or otherwise trying to signal drivers to stop, but trouble was the only reason I could imagine for pulling off the road there.

We should see if we can help them, I said to The Lady as I passed the people and their vehicle, then slowed down to pull off on the shoulder ahead of them.

You jump out and ask if they need anything, I said to The Lady. She’s the more outgoing of the two of us, so I figured she’d be better at approaching strangers.

She did jump out and was back quite soon. The people had a flat tire, she reported. They had phone service and water, so they didn’t need our help with those things. The woman wanted to know if we could give her a ride just down the road to a supermarket so she could buy a can of Fix-a-Flat.

I didn’t mind giving her a ride. While my van only has two passenger seats with seatbelts, there was room for her to perch on the edge of the bed. I could drive slowly so she wouldn’t feel her life was endangered without a seat belt.

Too bad I didn’t have the 12-volt air compressor I’d bought earlier in the year after a tire disaster on BLM land. I’d purchased the compressor along with a can of Fix-a-Flat in preparation for future tire disasters. Unfortunately for the people with the flat, I’d left the compressor with The Man who was rolling on three used tires and more likely to need it. If I’d had the compressor with me, I would have used it to try to pump up their tire. Maybe the tire would have held air long enough to get them to a tire repair shop. Since I didn’t have the compressor, all I could do was give the woman a ride so she could buy herself a can of Fix-a-Flat.

Oh wait! I had a can of Fix-a-Flat. I could just give her my can of Fix-a-Flat which would save us both time and save her money too.

I jumped out of the drivers seat and went around to the back of the van. After opening the doors, I had to move bags of food and a large plastic tote so I could rummage around in a small tub, but I finally put my hands on the can of Fix-a-Flat.

Is this what you were going to get? I asked the woman who had come closer to the van when The Lady beckoned her. When she said yes, I handed the can to her and told her she could have it.

She thanked us, and The Lady and I jumped back in the van. I don’t know what else we could have done to help.

The supermarket the woman had said was just down the road turned out to be about six miles away. I wouldn’t have minded driving that far, I told The Lady, but it was father than I’d expected.

When she asked for a ride, I asked her how she was going to get back, The Lady told me. She said she would walk. That would have been a long walk!

I would have waited for her, I told The Lady. I would have given her a ride back to her truck.

However, since we still had a long way to go to get to the campground where we planned to stay that night, I was happy I was able to simply hand over what she was planning to buy anyway.

I replaced the can of Fix-a-Flat a couple of days later while we were in civilization. When we got back to Babylon, The Lady gave me her family’s old air compressor that no longer works when plugged it into a regular electrical outlet but does still work when I plug it into my van’s 12-volt outlet. Now The Man and I are both prepared for tire disasters.

I hope the people on Indian Route 15 were back on the road in no time.

This photo is on the side of a laundromat in Kayenta, AZ.

I took the photos in this post.