Friday, October 28, 2016

Sarajoy (not so) Fresh!


This summer, I was asked if my husband was my son. He still looks about 25, so the illusion that we are not of the same generation is clearly his fault. Also, the person who asked was 8.

This fall, as I shuffled across the soccer field, Coyote was asked if I was his grandmother.

What's next? Blue has suggested: "Congratulations on your pregnancy! You look like you've already been through menopause, so that must have been a real surprise!" I'm not pregnant, but I admit that I have extra hardcore.


Ending the garden
Then I needed my first major dental work in 8 years: crowns. I made it to 40, so "king me." Everything went wrong and it took over three hours (stretching in to two months) and we all cried. These days, they add epinephrine to the Novocaine (or whatever -caine they're using now) and this constricts the blood vessels and makes the numb last longer. But I can't have epinephrine (unless I'm in anaphylaxis from duck eggs, then I prefer it over death). The first and last time I had it, I leapt from the dentist chair and started pulling everything out of my mouth, screaming, "What did you just put in me, ohmygod! ohmygod!"  And that's how we discovered that I can't have epinephrine in my -caine. So every few minutes they had to shoot me up with more plain old -caine and it wasn't super effective.

And there was nothing to do, or think about, or look at. So I just contorted myself in pain and endured. When in unavoidable pain, I like to think about the best feeling part of my body, usually a toe, and how good that part feels. I tried to make myself feel lucky that I didn't live in medieval times. I felt grateful for our era until I remembered that I have actually had perfect teeth ripped out. I was 8. It was done without -caines. A la medieval Europe.

It started with a teeter totter accident. I'd been on both the giving and receiving end of many a cherry-bomb, but the last one launched me into the air (weee!) and dropped me on my face, messing my mouth up a bit.  It was postulated that the accident had caused my brain to make extra teeth and a multitude of surgeries ensued.

For my first bit of dental work, at 6, I was thoroughly numbed. Afterwards, my dad brought me to the library, a nice, quiet place for me to be quiet and calm. He introduced me for perhaps the first time to the children's section while he wandered into the reel-to-reel film section, looking for something appropriate for our neighborhood movie nights or possibly Sunday School. You would think a library would be a nice place for a good girl to be quiet and unsupervised, but you'd be wrong.

I'd only ever known "The Bookmobile", a bus/RV made to look like an aisle at the library. It moseyed out to our neck of the woods bi-weekly, parking in front of the Furr's house. It was fine and innovative for it's time, but it had few options, and once you'd read everything in your range, it wasn't terrifically interesting. Looking back, the bookmobile seems like an Anime character, strange and magical, and it makes me feel I'm from another era, an anachronism, a time-traveler. But this library thing, it was huge, rows and rows of bookmobiles. As thrilled as if I'd just discovered Narnia, there would be no quiet calm for me. And in the excitement, I met a friend and we jabbered despite warnings that I not talk with my mouth numb as my teeth wouldn't know to avoid tongue and cheek.  But it was all so exciting! Also, I met a computer for the first time and my friend and I played a lemonade stand game.  But the numbness and the talking were not a good combination and by the time I got home, I'd chewed the inside of my cheeks to ribbons and blood was pouring from my mouth. My mother was pretty irate at everyone involved. So the next dentist was told of the horrors of over-numbing my mouth, so he ripped out my canines without anything. My mother was pretty irate at everyone involved.  

My mother finally settled on a good, Christian dentist, one who believed in the merits of judiciously applied pain-killers, to guide us through the process and yet the psychological damage was done. Once a year, tipped back in his beige chair, something small would set my little self off and I would bolt from his office, a quaint house in the small town of Ferndale. I would run to a little Hallmark-y gift shop and hide among the crystal figurines until my mother would return to the dentist office, be informed of my escape, and find me in town.  It wasn't as if I literally thought, "I should run off and cause problems for these people!" I simply thought, in a very smart yet reptilian part of my brain, "FLEE!"  When we moved across country, the dentist gave us the tome of my complete records. Half the width of the folder was due to the many apologies my mother made me send him. 

Mouth: work in progress (hair, face, clothes too)
I have tried to suppress these memories. I do meditative breathing and distract myself with the sumptuous fullness of my big toe. But sometimes it all comes back, my true feelings invade, aiming to steal my sanity, and make me FLEE again.

So I tried laughing gas for the first time this fall. At first it felt so incredibly good, I worried I'd orgasm on the dentist chair, thus bringing to life the worst nightmares I've ever had.  So I sat up and screamed, "Turn it off! Turn it off!"  They dialed it down a bit, but instead of feeling happy and giggly, I got really really sad. So sad that I cried. So sad that I came to deeply hate the maple tree outside the window, leaves turning red in front of my fucking face. Bitch. How dare time move forward like this! How dare the seasons turn so blatantly AT me! I have been crying a lot at the turning trees, especially the one that tumbled off the back of a school bus, but that day the sad was so unbearable it turned to hate. Apparently, everyone reacts to "laughing gas" differently, they said. And I either felt way too good, or was capable of killing an entire office with only my soul, there was no in-between for me. I was so sad, I made everyone in the office sad. Even the dentist. I saw the light in his eyes go out; I made it go out. I've heard that dentistry has the highest suicide rate of any profession; if you're not a sadist, you're just going to live your life knowing that you are everyone's worst day. You are worse than Mondays. You cause pain and everyone hates you. No one thinks of their teeth when they don't hurt; the gratitude doesn't last. Your face is the face of torture and phobias and huge, unwelcome bills.

As I laid in that chair for 21 hours straight, thinking about my big toe, I forgot about all of the other parts of my body and how to keep them in line. I have a faint recollection of my right shoulder shooting for the bathroom while my lower back tried to get out to the parking lot. My body could not agree on which direction it was fantasizing about fleeing in. By that afternoon, my contorted back left me nearly unable to walk. I couldn't move all weekend. So I went to the chiropractor. It was during these weeks of shuffling about, every step causing deep, scarring pain, that I was accused of being Coyote's grandmother.

My massage therapist randomly mused, "I should have gone in to dentistry, that's where the big money is at."  I said, "I'm pretty sure that my dentist wishes he'd gone in to massage therapy at this point." Then he hit a surprise alarm button in my gluteous maximus, and I was pretty sure I'd rather be at the dentist.

Then I somehow got a gig doing a commercial for a grocery store chain. My audition must have gone well on some level because I got the job, but it was also a train wreck prompting my "talent agency" to offer a free class on how to do auditions. I knew I'd flubbed the technical aspects of the audition with my complete ignorance of common acting terms. I was told to do my "slate," but just stood there, trying to figure what that was without revealing that I didn't know.  Apparently the director showed my agent the clip and a class was born.

The only thing I knew heading in to the audition was that it was for a grocery store. I have no idea how to prepare for these things, so I did what I could think of: I got my eyebrows and nails done (things I've never previously had an interest in and now, at 41, have no idea how to do, so I am obliged to hired them out) and then practiced being pleasantly surprised by reasonable prices. But when I got there, I discovered they were going for an emotional connection and was told to welcome my son home from war. And so I imagined what that would be like and in less than a minute was hugging, clinging, and clawing the poor stand-in, and literally crying. Because that's what I do these days apparently, thanks to my TBI; I cry at the drop of a leaf.

In this commercial/fantasy-land, my "husband" was a hard-living 65 and my son was about 25.  And my back hurt and my temporary crowns hurt. And my hair is un-dyed, which no one does these days, and which seems to confuse the world, what with my face being a freckled forty and my hair apparently eighty. Not only does the camera add 10 pounds (this is true!) it also apparently adds two decades, but only to women. Despite a little sadness at playing a 55 year old, it was a thrilling experience with some rushing high's: I made a camera man cry with my acting and the director kept yelling, "Can we get more of that gorgeous hair in the shot?!"

And then Blue started Driver's Ed. My daughter is taking the wheel and the metaphor couldn't be more apt. I am in the passenger seat for this beautiful, last thing we do together. When I first got her, she didn't even know how to move her arms. She crapped herself dozens of times a day. We taught her to walk. We taught her to eat with utensils (not that she ever uses them). We taught her her first language (although it made me sad to limit her in this inevitable way... training the brain to hear a limited range of sounds). We taught her to ride a bike (it took 3 years).  Certainly there are other milestones in our future, but this feels like the last of this type.  And there she is, behind the wheel, steering herself, navigating through the college parking lot on a Sunday, Security having been duly alerted by a concerned and observant citizen and following us with their high beams on. It's a beautiful baton pass. But this forward plunge in to the future is accelerated by the fact that she started college this year too. I wasn't expecting that. And the leaves are turning. And the parts of me that do not include my hair and my teeth and my back, feel too young for this parent/child rite of passage. But it comes none-the-less. Hold back the autumn. Hold back the crimson from the leaves. I know what comes next, the leaving, the winter.

Driver
I had a vision of myself at 95. I appeared much like a woman I saw when I was 11, visiting my great grand parents in a yellow-hued North Dakota nursing home. She lingered in the hallway outside their room, hunched in her wheel chair, wiggling the fingers in her lap and chanting, "Knit one, Pearl two." I was told she thought she was knitting, the yarn and needles all in her head, which I thought was sort of nifty. You get to spend all day doing something you love and no one gives a shit if it's real. But I saw myself in that wheel chair, in that dim-yellow hallway, an imaginary smart phone in my hand, scrolling through an imaginary facebook feed, turning to my imaginary friend from time to time and saying "Look at this! Isn't that something!" And the little girl in the hallway asks her mother what I'm doing and her mother tells her about the ancient past-time of social media.

Some people say it's passe to grouse about arbitrary cultural milestones, as if their opinion is somehow objectively superior to my honest emotions.  I had a hard time with 40 and am grateful it's over now. And so what if you (or someone similar) think that's dumb. You know what I think is dumb? Trying to direct and dictate how people should feel or even how you yourself should feel. You're at where you're at when you're there. There's really no controlling it. For some, 40 is a lump in the throat, a speed bump, a time to reassess. For others, like my absurdly youthful husband, it's just another day in another seemingly inevitable year. Our interior worlds are what they are. They are inscrutable and not subject to rules of logic.  Dictating how one, anyone - self or other, SHOULD feel is to deny, to lie, to assume control that isn't there. How we feel is it's own truth, observable, real, essense-ial to our own unique being.

"The basis of all integrity is accepting what’s happening in the present moment. Fighting reality, through denial, minimization, fantasy, or avoidance, puts everything we think and do on a wobbly foundation. To accept reality, we must allow ourselves to know everything we know and feel everything we feel." - Martha Beck "The Integrity Cleanse"

For much of my life, I would ask: What should I feel here? What is best? Expedient? Logical? And then I would go about forcing myself to feel that way, to have the "right" feelings.  But what are the "right" feelings? Who decides? The "right" feelings are typically those that feel safe to whoever assumes they are in charge. The way we "should" feel is mostly just some sort of convenience. The head is easily corrupted, and the mind controlled, but the heart is where the truth of who we are lies.  And anyone who wants to tell you how you "should" feel (through shaming, fiat, any number of ways) is afraid of that truth and wants it smashed. Hell, my illogical feelings scare me too, but there's always something to learn from them. So now, I've got my heart here and it's in charge of what I feel. And my head is now in charge (marginally) about the why of it and what to do about it.  And whatever I subsequently do with those feelings, is also a truth about who I am.

There will be discomfort (maybe yours, certainly mine) with my feelings: about 40, the dentist, drivers ed and college. I am where I am. I feel what I feel. My feelings don't need to please or comfort you, or even me. They are, more or less, the essence of being an individual. And now I'm not telling myself I SHOULD be okay with the dentist, and 40 and time. I'm not. And now, now we can deal with those truths face to face. Not doing that, literally caused me more pain. We are clear now: pain is there. We know that it is unbearable; no denying that. So I used my emergency anxiety medication for my latest dentist visit, and for me it went quite well, for me anyway. My dentist, however, still has black holes where his eyes used to be. I'll used that anxiety medication again when I open the bill from the him.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Zombie Dream Come True

I get a Sunday evening text from my "talent agency," having a "z-mergency." Zombies are needed ASAP and I fit the general criteria. Being utterly unemployed, I am available, always. At times, I will arrive on set within an hour of a call. This is how it goes for me, an always-available fill-in for no-shows and emergencies.

I arrive on location, in the far north of Spokane.Ten or so white trailers are set up in the parking lot of a defunct aluminum plant. This is a former Kaiser plant, abruptly closed when the workers went on strike and the pissy little bitch of an owner closed plants and moved operations to Chad, where he could more freely abuse the employees and environment. The place is huge and spooky. Miles and piles of industrial shit. Broken locker rooms with jackets still hanging on hooks. Warehouses with broken windows. Weeds. Dust. Peeling, rusty sheet metal. Broken ladders and ramps.  Huck, a Toxics Clean-up site manager, is very familiar with this place. It is post-apocalyptic defined. Costco would like to build on it, but the soil is too contaminated. As some point during this shoot, I will be asked to crawl around in dirt beneath old tanks. It will stink and the dust will be black. I will hope that just an hour or two of exposure will not be enough to harm me.
Ye Olde Aluminum Plante

It is raining and cold that first day. I check in and am handed a costume. It is filthy. It has a sheen of dirt, meant to indicate 5 years unwashed, that makes my whole body shiver. Later, I will watch the costume people spray the clothes with fake dirt from a can, like spray paint, and I will relax a bit. Based on my costumes, the zombie apocalypse clearly takes place in the late 90's. The pants are flared-legged; the shoes, chunky and round, brown clown shoes.

The extras have their own trailer and we sit there, waiting to be called by "Make-Up."  I'm not sure what the fraternization rules are here. We chat, but some don't want to chat. Some are zombie veterans from years past and they tell me everything I need to know.  They are reserved, though, doling out information only when asked. I get the idea that we aren't supposed to be chatting. But later, with other groups of zombies, I will discover that this first group was simply a non-chatting group, that there are no rules, there are only personal preferences. Later, with other zombies, I will learn why they were reserved: some of these people are fucking nuts, mean, terrifying, and very difficult. It is wise to hold back a moment or two, to see what you are dealing with.


Extras' Trailer
I met "L" on a different day, a 23 year old who hits on me at first. I'm fully off market (plus utterly surprised!) so I mention my kids and husband in the first sentence.  He sighs and moves on. There's so much more to life than fucking. I feel bad for him and hope he learns to relate to women as people, not just potentials. But as the day goes on, the chatter ebbs and flows, the camp chairs shuffle around the tent, we find we have lots in common. And we end up friends and it's not flirty or weird. I'm almost maternally proud of him for opening up to other ways to relate.

Blouse-zombie is a well known local actress. She's incredible and great for the crew to work with and direct. She's short and fearless and loves crashing her compact self into the ground. But in the extras tent, she's obnoxious and difficult. She's aggressively flirty and rude and demands attention constantly, even while napping. I don't hate her; I can see that this is simply how she's wired and we are a bad fit. Her need for energy will suck my limited supplies dry. A group plays Uno while we wait; each of her turns takes 5 minutes. If anyone reminds her it's her turn, she barks either that she's thinking or she forgot... it's impossible for any observer to know the difference. I learn to avoid her.  She's a net-worker and I leave without saying goodbye to the director, an acquaintance I know from our kid's extensive sex-ed program, where we were stuck in a room together for hours one night a week for eight weeks. I avoid him because I'm tired after 11 hours on set and I can't think any more. Also, I'm unsure he'll be able to recognize me under all of this make-up. And also Blousey is putting on her charming mask and giggling him up, hand on his arm, head cocked. After all the shit she flung all day, I can't stand it. Plus "L" is leaving and we are walking to the trailers together, talking about how much weed we are gong to smoke when we get home. But Juan is a person too and I probably should have just said hi because that's just being friendly to a friend. I don't have to say "hi" like Blousey says "hi." But I'm too tired to think it all through.

The Horde
Then there's the extra who used the chaos of a crowd of zombies to grab me, to hook his hands on my waist from behind. Pervy zombie. When they yell "Cut!" I whirl around, snarl low and quiet, "Fuck off." He giggles, shrugs and says "Zombies!" But he never touches me again.

I meet two women that are a bit older than me, also SAHM's with older kids. They say there's a lot of work for natural looking middle aged women. There's no work for middle aged women who are trying to look 20, though. We talk about bra shopping at Victoria's Secret and this one horrible shop girl that made fun of one zombie's side boob and back fat, who also chuckled at my small breasts and made me buy a beautiful bra that I can't breathe in because that was the only way I was going to get cleavage, she said. I'm not even a fan of cleavage. I think a flat chest can be hot, if you work it right and don't pretend you're something you're not.

There's also the red-headed lesbian whose face lights up when I don't skip a beat as she tells me about her girl friend. She compliments me on my crazy zombie motions.

And then there's the bragger in the wheel chair. She can walk a bit. She looks like one badasss zombie. But she calls it Spokompton and no one really likes her after that. We've all heard the slur before. Spokane is the 2nd largest city in Washington, it's going to have crime and all the bs that comes with cities. She's constantly telling us how much money she makes and how professional she is. It's annoying. I think I could like her, if she'd just cut the bullshit.

There's a hillbilly from Idaho. He wants to talk about guns and killing animals. He thinks he's shocking a bunch of city slickers. So I tell him about my steer Beignet and he shuts up.

I would never recognize any of these people without their layers of zombie make-up.

That first day, people are called from the extras trailer, raindrops singing on the metal roof,  to the make-up trailer and zombies return in their place. We are then called to the costume tent to be splattered in blood.

I am the last one called. I am slated to be a special-effects zombie called a "Hero Zombie." And there is only one make-up artist that can do that and he's been working on the principal actors all morning.  At 11 am, I am finally called to the make-up trailer. I walk up the metal steps into a wall of mirrors and barber chairs.  The mirrors at each station are lined with those large round bulbs and I feel very Hollywood; a thrill shoots through me.

My make-up artist is "Adam," let's say. Adam and I will become very close today. He will be my make up man twice. And then, since I've already been the same zombie 2x, I will get a new make up person who will make me into a totally different zombie, one with stunning cheek bones. But today, the first day, Steve will work on me for 4 hours, and then one more hour to clean me off. First he gets out facial prosthetics, sizes me up, and cuts them to fit. Then he actually glues them on to my face. But half way through, he's called to the set to give a principal actor a black eye, make-up-ly speaking of course.

I sit for 45 minutes. The music is hard and loud and I put ear plugs in. I'm worried I won't be able to make it through a whole day if this music wears out my mind here. I've been worried all along that I won't be able to do this. This is my first paid work since my head injury. I have no idea how my brain and body will respond. I'm scared, but I have weed and ibuprofen and earplugs in my backpack and I know that I can lay in bed for the rest of the week if need be.  But until I hear "Action!" I'm reserving my energy as best as I can.
Hero Zombie

Adam returns to me and my prosthetics.  Adam is short and thin and smells like cigarette smoke. He's from LA and he's a make-up guy. "Twink" I think. That's probably the term, right? Small, wiry gay guy? Damn Spokane and it's provincial backwoodsiness. I don't know anything gay that "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" didn't teach me. The other make-up guy, the big one with the beard and tattoos, he's the "bear" right?

Just as Adam is beginning to contour my zombie face, we are called for lunch. We are herded into a white van and driven to a warehouse on the other end of the property. As I follow the driver into the lean-to shed where the extras are served our catered lunch, the main actors are being led into the main warehouse where their buffet is laid with table clothes. The character "Doc" would prefer to go with us, and follows us into the shed, but he's pulled back, laughing. The rule is that we are to be kept separate from the principal actors. You never know what kind of nut is going to show up in the extras bin. And the characters must be coddled, by necessity, must have their space to get in to character and stay there if need be. Later "Doc" and "Murphy" will give us hugs and take photos with us. They are the outgoing ones. The others are more reserved, always expressing gratitude for our work, but never engaging with us. After I meet several sets of extras, that seems like the safest option.

After lunch, Adam sets to work again. Zombies are needed on set, so the rest of them are vanned-off to location.  Adam and I chat while he layers my face. He sprays sealant on me. I am splattered with blood. Over the four hours we've been together, we've gotten closer, I've been less reserved than usual, comfortable that there is no risk of him misinterpreting my friendliness. He seems to like me, and in my isolated life where I run a tight energy budget, where I rarely go out anymore, it feels good to meet some one and have them like me, to succeed in building report. Closeness, for me, is often felt in similarities and we are similar. But then he starts talking about his ex-girlfriend. He is not a "twink". And it turns out, there is no "bear" either. Nobody in this trailer is gay. My friendliness has indeed been misinterpreted and hints are being given and oh my gawd, I'm a fucking idiot. I am still cringing at myself; I hope you are too, I need company here.

They need me on set, so other artists are called in to help. To get the "5 years without a shower" look, conditioner is smoothed in to my hair. But the hair lady loves my hair and is playing with it. It keeps looking better and better. I warn her that my hair now looks awesome. She's befuddled and can't figure out how to fuck up my hair. She says, "Wow, this is a great problem for an actress to have." I've not been called an actress since the 90's. Every time I come to this trailer, the LA people gush about my "look". I think of myself as simply being myself, whatever my DNA wants to express is what is expressed. I feel simple and plain. But apparently these Hollywood-types find me exotic. I am as susceptible to flattery as anyone and I begin to wonder if there might be more for me in this field than being a zombie extra.

Someone else is called in to paint my hands. I am being worked on by a hive of artists and I feel like canvas, like art, like an actress, like someone who matters to the world outside my home.  Once my hands are painted, I won't be able to wash them. I will have difficulty getting my button-happy pants down to pee. And then I won't be able to wash them. And then I will realize than no one can wash their hands and then I will look at the chip bowl on the catering table in a whole new way.

I'm called to the set just as they are moving location. The day is cold and rainy and windy and as we approach, the white tents go flying in the wind. It's a huge disaster and delay. The equipment gets wet and everyone needs new make up. We wait in the van. "Murphy" is in the van with me. He is kind and gregarious. There was previously some bruhaha about the principal actors hating Spokane and talking smack about this little work-horse city on twitter. The truth is no one moves here because they fall in love with it. This isn't Portland or Bellingham where people jump in with both feet and no job. Everyone who lives here is here for job or family, not city-love. Spokane is a practical town with a few fabulous pockets of creativity, but it's no San Francisco. And who could blame the actors? The locations are all shit. Their idea of Spokane is this broken down Kaiser plant. It's a place only a location scout could love.  But "Murphy" comments on the beauty of the storm against the hills, how pretty this place is. I love him and wish I weren't so tongue tied. I wish I had something to say other than a star-struck "Gah!"

The new location is on a hill beneath a blooming walnut tree. I unload from the van, grabbing my camp chair and bag of necessities. We bring our own chairs everywhere, but I did not need to bring my own water and snacks. A snack table and caterer follows us everywhere, sets up at every location.  We are given our own tent. On sunny days, this gives us shade. On rainy days, like this one, we get to stay dry. Our make-up is expensive and people were paid a lot of money to put it on us. Between each take, my make up is checked and my teeth are sprayed with Listerine and black dye.

It is 4 o'clock and I am finally called upon to act. I am so green that I have to ask a bunch of stupid questions like: Do I look at the Camera? Answer: NEVER. (Except later, I will blunder into other work and auditions where you do a "slate," which apparently involves directly looking in to the camera.)  I am to menacingly descend a hill.  I'm actually not sure I can remember the instructions. But when "Action" is yelled at us, I find I have a laser focus. I know exactly what to do. There is only one thought in my mind: "I will eat their brains." Because of my "hero" make up, I will get lots of close-ups. I will stay late for additional shots. I feel amazing, talented, useful.


The rain comes again and the on-site medic is worried that our lips are turning bluer. We are given blankets, which become stained by our make up. We are hauled into vans where we idle and chat and joke.

Finally, the weather clears and I am called upon to die. We are shown a hillside upon which we are to scatter ourselves.  I want to look dramatic, not peaceful or regal, no Lady of Shallot am I! I contort myself, an arabesque of blood and joints and dirt.  And there I must stay, trying not to breath, for an hour.  A principal actress points at me, and says, "What you are doing, I could NEVER do." I smile at her but I cannot do this either. I am in excruciating pain. I cannot breathe. Every time they break, I sit up gasping. But I've chosen this position, arms flailed in the wet grass, hips half broken off my body.  The director yells, "You guys look incredible!"  I feel pride in my dead body. I've given it my all and will need hours of yoga to straighten out.  I learn my lesson. On subsequent days, I die very comfortably. I contort only my face and one arm, that's all. One day, as I die, my ankle is crushed by a fellow zombie. We were to die in a pile on a foam pad, but my ankle couldn't quite make it and neither could he. His day job, I learned in our tent, is as a federal judge. The medic checks me out; I'm fine, but have a sore bruise for two months.  Later that day, the judge will tear his achilles.  The stunt advisor will take a much more active role from here on out. He is Australian and bald and well built.

I will eat you!
Every day on set, I am impressed with the organization and professionalism. A few of the crew whisper and gossip, but most everyone is focused and organized. No extra is ever forgotten in a trailer or toilet. I learn to relax and just wait for instructions. The only confusion is once when the extras' tent is on the other side of shooting from the bathrooms. We used a field, pre-contaminated with toxics far worse than any of us could possibly deposit. Until it's my turn and I ask for a system to get us through shooting to the toilets.

I am also impressed by the hush on the set as an actor approaches an emotional scene. The character "10K" must give it his all in a wrenching grief scene. There is an awed hush. This type of scene takes so much from an actor, they only want to ask them to do it once. There is a deep respect for the emotional places an actor must go to pull that kind of darkness out for the camera.

I watch TV differently now. I see how a scene was shot. I understand what it took from the actors. I notice the cuts to show something happening that cannot happen. I've seen behind the curtain. I've read the magicians manual. Watching is more interesting now.

That first day, I return to the make-up trailer when it is dark. It is the only day I will have my make-up professionally removed. It will take an hour. They will run out of water. More will be trucked in. "Murphy" is in the trailer with me, laughing and joking with his make-up artist. His make-up also takes a while to remove. Other days, I will get to leave in full make-up.  People will stare. I will arrive home and eat spaghetti and my family will laugh at the zombie at the table, dripping red noodles from her famished mouth.

SAHZombie
Every day that I am not on set, I have hurt feelings. For those into emotional accounting, that is every day but 3 for 4+ months! I don't know if it's just a sense of rejection, if I miss the feeling of being chosen, if I did something wrong. Maybe it was FOMO, fear of missing out on movie magic. Maybe I just miss feeling special in the make-up tent. Or maybe, I was too front and center on that first day, after which I was always hidden in the back of the zombie pack. Or maybe it's Adam, who's not allowed to fraternize with me anymore, which is fine because it was kind of creepy for a bit there. Or maybe that hurt is about how much I loved that work, and it was work I could do. It was perfect for me. Ten to twelve hours on set broken down into chunks I could handle: 1-5 hours sitting in a make-up chair, 1 hour playing dead, 1 hour acting crazy, 1/2 hour eating lunch and the rest was napping, reading, and chatting. It was perfect for me. And every extra agreed that it was the best job any of us had ever had.

As it turns out, I'm only in the first episode, a "movie."  Z-Nation is Syfy channel's top show and the season premier, the only one I'm likely to be in if they didn't cut my scenes, airs tonight.  I'm in one trailer three times, so there's a good chance you'll see me if you put it on slow-motion and look for the bobbed gray hair!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Home $weet Home

It all began about a year ago. Yellowstone. An adventure, one I could handle more than 50% of the time. We wanted more of that, but there was one big thing standing in our way. Our house.

Buying this house was easily the biggest financial error of my life thus far. As with all colossal errors, it began with falling in love. I fell in love with this house, its large windows and mass of french doors (6! UPDATE: I miscounted, there's only 5), its bucolic vistas, its ancient age (1901!), its tile work, its light, its location (15 minutes to downtown, on a quiet dead end!)  We had no idea what Huck's first real job after a later-in-life college experience would get us. But I was certain that after living in a garage in a peach orchard, after moving five times in one year, after 7 years on food stamps, we deserved this house and the universe was going to give it to us, dammit.

And yet every month, for seven years, our ability to pay the mortgage has been a question mark. At first it was a question mark with an explanation mark, like so: ?!  Then, as raises were doled out the exclamation mark faded. But still, the question remained: could we amass that kind of money by that date? Vacations were only via family sponsorship to visit family, all else, including camping trips, were forfeit. We never ate out. Our socks were full of holes. Neither adult in the family got new shoes for five years. I thought I could handle it. I was used to being broke; it was the only thing I'd known. We spent every extra penny replacing every single appliance in the house, on an emergency basis: washer, dryer, sump pump, furnace, air conditioning, sump pump again, oven (that was a gift from Huck's mom!), fridge, dishwasher. The only one left is the water heater. Upon purchase, I'd never cared about fancy new appliances. If it did the job, it got the job. I care now. I really really care now.

Housing is my Achilles heel, always. I stopped plans to attend UNC for a house on Orcas Island that looked like a tiny, one-story version of this one. When Huck and I returned from India, me pregnant and in labor, and the Seattle housing market grimly tight, we landed a gorgeous apartment (in an old house) on Alki beach via a family member. It was too expensive for us, but it was what was available immediately. And although I loved it, it tanked us financially.

In middle school, I subscribed not to Seventeen, not to Teen Heart Throb, but to Victoria Magazine and my favorite section was the house plans at the back. My first novel, written in middle school, was based on house plans from that magazine. My second novel was based on an old mansion a friend restored. The House is always the main character. It's my addiction, destructive as any other. It's love and devotion, as destructive as any other.

This is to say that I'm a sucker for beautiful old houses. I let them wreck me again and again.

But last summer I knew I was ready for adventures again and my head injury seemed ready to allow them. I was ready to quit this house. So the obvious solution was to sell.

This idea had been pre-seeded by neighbors recently. They held suspiciously similar conversations with me (never Huck, only me), script like: "Oh wasn't it so hard maintaining 5 acres?!" They'd all said. "Yes," I'd said, but thought What strange commiseration from people who own all of the necessary equipment, hire all help, and obviously have no problems meticulously, obsessively over-maintaining their lots?

They'd said: "Wouldn't your kids prefer living in town? Imagine, they could just WALK to the pool!" I'd said, "Yes, I suppose they'd enjoy that." But I thought Since when do you guys care about my kids and their entertainment? And to have several such stiffly conducted conversations in succession had my spidy senses tingling.

During one of the "friendly" wouldn't-you-be-happier-in-town chats, she looked over at her husband, pruning a tree and barked, "Are done? You're just going to leave that branch sticking out there like that?!" And he says to me, having overheard our conversation, "You know, she doesn't care about people. She just cares how things look." That was my cue to pay more attention to the unfolding scene.

And then, just before the Yellowstone trip, she called to say she'd retired from her wine shop and was going in to real estate and would love to represent us as we sold our house to the other neighbors who'd also been actively letting us know we'd be happier elsewhere and now wanted to own, outright (rather than just in their imaginations) our property. We weren't maintaining our home to standards, so perhaps something in town would be more suitable. Ah, yes, that's the part I was waiting for, the cap stone that made it all make sense.

The country-side I'd grown up in was the "Nobody's business what you do," type of country. This, I discovered too late, was "Display ability to control nature on a large scale" type of country.

Truth be told, five acres is a lot to maintain.  Since my head injury, our property had devolved into obvious disarray. The old garden was overgrown and difficult to work in. Fences had fallen. The front porch was divorcing the house, quickly. The back porch, constituting a full mile of white painted spindles that require scraping and painting on a yearly basis, hadn't been touched in three years. (Curses be upon all idiots who paint -rather than stain- porches and fences!) A pallet-made chicken coop was dissolving in the field. Half of the fruit trees were standing-dead. A pile of un-chopped wood was rotting. Towers of garden debris hadn't been burned, still festooned with a collection of old Christmas trees. The Noxious Weed Board had become our constant pen pal. There was no one here with the time or ability to do this stuff. And even as my stamina and strength was increasing (thanks to high CBD marijuana), the mess before us was emotionally debilitating. I tried to tell myself that it didn't get that way over night and it wasn't going to get fixed over night either. But even a baby-step approach seemed insurmountable.


The pallets surrender!
Our last day in Yellowstone, Huck and I excitedly decided that yes, we would sell the house, or at least look again into a refi. My I-Ching reading on the matter said only this: "You are not going to fucking believe all of the crazy stuff that's about to happen. I can't even go into it right now. You have to move forward, but you will be getting spun around so much you won't know which way is forward, just go step by step and you'll get to where you need to be." Well, that sounded like an adventure in itself! Onward Ho!

We knew one thing at this point: the wanna-be neighbor-agent would not be handling any of our real estate business. She'd never shown an interest in my well-being since the beginning (Here's an early blog post about it and although it's not clear in the post, those are quotes) and I could not trust her with such important business. Her loyalties were with the other neighbors, always, even telling me I couldn't put my laundry on the the line when the others were having events at their garden business. Right there, even in such a minor concept, she could have shown an interest in my needs: mom work.  But as is typical in our culture, she worships the business owner, the saints of capitalism, whose needs must always come before any others. She'd expressed much concern over how our place looked, but none over how my recovery was going. My TBI was interfering with her ideal neighborhood and that was her only concern. I needed to get over it STAT, so she could enjoy her view more. There was exactly zero evidence, collected (or not) over the past seven years, that she was capable of even considering, much less representing, our needs.

Upon our return, even as the car was being unpacked, we began. The simplest way to get more cash would be a refi, so we began making calls on that, but the quotes were never within a range that made a significant enough dent. Meanwhile, we called in our local Real Estate expert. She gave us a list of minimum fixes and a price to get us out of the house ASAP, for less than we bought it for yes, but also more than we now owed.  She gave us her handyman too, who worked for four hours, doing a beautiful job on our window frames and disappeared without being paid.

I began on the exterior, forgoing my hobbies of writing and yoga, for the full time job of proper property proprietorship. I cleaned up the garden space, removing my overly complex chicken/garden modular fence "plan". I pulled up the mowed-to-shreds irrigation. While Huck was at work, I reseeded the lawn, painted the trim, all in tiny increments my brain could handle. The timer gave me 20 minutes on, 30 minutes off. Huck devoted every weekend to fixing what I couldn't. It was autumn and the weather would turn soon, forcing my attention indoors. We had a small window of opportunity to get the acreage under control before snow covered it.  Our consulting agent recommended: put the house on the market AFTER it snows; it will show better if no one can see the yard.  But I figured we'd get the bulkier stuff under control first.
 
The list of work she gave us was huge, depressing, daunting. But I came to realize that this is the definition of life, of karma, of being: cleaning up our own messes, and those of the people who came before us (I'm looking at you, previous owners, who hung a valance over a leaky window!). This is all life is, dealing with the shit that's happening to us, the shit we've done, the shit we failed to do, the shit other people left us. Fair or not fair. Fun or not fun. Just don't keep passing the mess on, generation after generation. When we don't deal with our wounds (and all five acres were looking like a giant wound, a TBI spread out over the land, a TBI made visible), when we don't do our work, we just pass it on. We pass it on to the innocent ones behind us, we leave them our crap, our garbage, our pollution and then they've got their own stuff to deal with and ours as well, and our parents', and our grandparents'. It's a mountain of trash now. And it didn't get that way over night and it's not going to get fixed over night. But we've all got to do our part and at the very least clean up our own stuff. Overwhelming, yes, but what else am I doing with my life but maintaining it, cleaning it all, inside and out? What else are we here to do?
Huck and his dad reapplying the front porch

I want to pick up after myself. It's the right thing to do. It's the only thing. We can't get clear of our past decisions, we can't forget them, we can't ignore them, we can't pretend they never happened. There's no toothbrush for the past, we can't just scrub the past off at the end of the day. We have to say: yes that happened, or yes I did that, but today is new, today is a day for doing what I can, for shouldering my responsibilities in this trash heap. So we set to work; unfun, crappy work that felt, to me, to have cosmic, karmic?, qualities.


Armed with solid real estate estimates, we approached the other neighbors ourselves. They expressed an interest and so our efforts shifted from exterior (which they'd already seen and been disappointed by on the daily and which was sometimes mentally taxing for me to do because I knew she was just sitting at her dining room table, glaring and snarling at our place, at me working on it, likely doing everything wrong, likely being utterly inadequate at home-ownership, as usual.)  So, I left the yard unfinished ("Typical." I could almost hear her say) and turned my attentions to touch up paint, window washing, deep cleaning and re-cleaning, de-cluttering, staging.

Meanwhile, we also began looking at houses for sale. What if we did sell? What would be a good price range for us, what would work for the budget we have now, today, not five years from now? And could we find something we like within that margin? Months went by and the answer to that question was clearly: NO.  There would be too many multiple, crushing compromises. Pick three: 0 lot line, half the square footage, high crime neighborhood, longer commutes than what we currently have, on a busy thoroughfare, no garage at all, plywood kitchen, former meth lab. But we could rally, I knew, we could do it, we could. We'd been happy living in worse.

Everyone's favorite sun room, that time it was clean
The neighbors soon toured our house, liking the new appliances, everyone's favorite sun room and the "layout", which made me suspicious: can anyone honestly really love a bathroom/hallway combo, even with a clawfoot bathtub?  Then she lectured me on the yearly nature of porch paint maintenance, a sore spot. When I responded that when you are relearning how to read and how to walk without falling over, when a position change like getting out of bed makes you vomit, when you can't talk without stuttering endlessly, all of that healing work takes precedence over a little porch paint, her jaw dropped. I'm not sure she even knew I had a head injury. Or perhaps she thought I was speaking out of turn. But what did she think my little, slow, cane-assisted walks along our road were all about anyway?

In the meantime, we received a letter from another agent about a couple of doctors who wanted in to our neighborhood. Their range was our-house-price to our-house-pricex2. They had some sob story about deals falling through on land and other houses and I felt it wouldn't hurt to throw our hat in to the ring, to have a buyer option other than our crappy neighbors. My father-in-law's common-law wife, a real estate agent herself, had been advising us periodically and she was stunned by the astronomically wide price range this couple was looking at and cautioned us to proceed carefully. We left the house tidy for them but when they called back, they were laughing and the agent snobbishly said, 'Haha, not really what they were looking for. Haha." Was the lower end of the range just there for amusement? If you NEED a foyer and attached garage on acreage why would you ever include our price range? Their previous deals had fallen through not because of some unfair bad luck, as they imagined, but because they were Grade A Douchebags.

We proceeded with our neighbors, giving a price below what the agent said we could get as the house still needed help and FSBO would save us money.  They took their time responding, telling us they'd be over this Friday, and then I'd scrub it all over again, but half an hour before the appointed hour, they'd have something come up. Something came up so many times that I knew our neighbor/buyers (a lumber company executive and I don't trust corporate executives or people who chop down trees) were pulling some kind of power play. Eventually they counter-offered a full 10% lower. Fine, we wanted out, we'd play, even though we knew they intended to pay with cash and had the money, we had to do what was best for us, even if it felt a bit icky. We gamely countered half way between. They took their sweet time getting back to us, stretching this process out now from August to December. They claimed that things had come up, like Thanksgiving and family. We said: okay. I thought: Yes, that sneaky sneaky Thanksgiving, always springing itself on you at the worst times! This gave us another opportunity to talk to yet another real estate agent. And since the repairs, they thought our house was worth even more! And we felt a little foolish with the lower price we'd started at. But we wanted out.

The neighbors would not come up, not by a penny. They were firmly insisting that we donate our home to them. We came down in price even more. And when they wouldn't even come up a few thousand, we walked away, politely. But what I wanted to say was: Fuck you. Fuck you and your scabbish, scavanger predation. Don't you ever set a fucking foot on MY property again.  A case could have been made for taking their price, for just leaving with the shirts on our backs and calling it good. For not throwing good money after bad. For walking away from a bad financial decision. But I just couldn't.

Christmas Eve. Huck and I were in the ER overnight thanks to a restaurant feeding me wheat.  His phone rings: an employee of the rose garden neighbors. She was renting her house to "Kenyan Missionaries" and wanted to downsize to a cheaper, smaller home and thought ours would do the trick. (What Kenyan Missionaries can afford a bigger, better house in our neighborhood? Who downsizes to 3000 square feet?) And if we weren't going to sell it to her, would we ever sell? She needed to know! Had the neighbors just sent a spy to see if they'd blown their chances of getting us out of the neighborhood?!

We decided to refi as rates were even lower now than before. Our first attempt was promising; for only $4000 we could get all of our debts rolled in to one! Reduce our bills substantially, better than moving!  My delight and glee was telling and I felt like mythological Abraham with his dagger over his son and the angel swooping in at the last minute to say he didn't actually have to kill his son, god just wanted to see if he would. I could no longer pretend that I wanted to move. What we wanted was better finances, a smarter, more livable budget, but my heart still belonged to this house.  In that moment, we saw what I really wanted. To stay.  My nightmares, when they come, are always about not living in this house and not knowing why, missing it, grief. These dreams are both a grieving for my old life, my old self, mixed with fear about losing my favorite earthly object on top of it all. My desire to move was partly an attempt to meet my fears half way. To say, yes, that could happen, and I could be fine, I could even want it to happen. I could even make it happen and I would live, thrive.  But the truth was undeniable now. I'd never wanted to move from this house. Perhaps from some neighbors, perhaps from the work and the mess yes, but not this home. When I first stepped over the threshold, I felt I was coming home. I felt I belonged here. I felt that this was the nest for my eggs. A wanderer, an adventurer, and perpetual mover, I'd stepped into a place where I finally felt utterly home. I could not deny it now.

That particular refi deal turned out to be a scam (don't let the high rankings fool you) and hours before we were to sign the papers, the price went for $4000 to $8000 and we walked away, again, which was hard because at this point I just wanted off the crazy train, off of the housing roller-coaster, to make the drama stop! Part of the problem was an internet appraisal company where the appraisal came in shockingly low because they compared our house to things like a two bedroom shack behind the prison 15 miles away.

The next company assured us we were qualified for the super rare, super cheap, super fast federal refi! Weeee! But the next day we found out that due to Huck's raise a few weeks earlier, we were no longer qualified. But in the end, it worked out and the appraisal was reasonable, and retroactively justified our asking price. There was more drama at the signing but it all is almost worked out, lo these four months later. I can only conclude that this entire year of house drama was born under one hell of an unlucky star.

I still feel sometimes that we shouldn't be living here. But we've turned the property into what works for us today. We moved the garden from the field to the old weedy dog run. We put in raised beds and new soil (I could not devote myself to seven more years of soil improvements before we got decent yields). We've contracted the yard into a small city-size lot, manageable. The field is loaned out to six adorable sheep whose owner maintains the fences.  We've simplified and simplified and the property now works for us.


I also now know that we've got some wonderful neighbors too. Here's how one addressed our predicament:
Old guy: I've noticed your lawnmower sitting out, do you need some help fixing it? I've got a big shop with every possible tool. I've love to help.
Me: Aw shucks, I know our yard looks like shit. I do need help.
Him: NO NO NO! Your yard looks whatever way you want it to. That doesn't bother me.  I just want to know if you want my help with your lawn mower.
Me: hell yeah!
Him: tows my mower to his shop. We talk about his Navy years and my TBI.

A good neighbor tow
Later he says: Are you feeling better? You look like you're feeling better. I see you working outside more these days.
Me: (self-consiously) Yes! My yard is looking so much better, isn't it?
Him: I don't care about what your yard looks like. I'm just glad to see you feeling better.
THAT, my friends, is how it's done. THAT is what being a good neighbor, a good person is.

And that's why I buy him fancy dark chocolate from time to time.

I finally tell our other neighbor friends what's going on. And she says to me, "I would have been so hurt. You must have been so hurt by that! I can't imagine! We are not fancy people, you and I. And I know fancy people and I can get along with them. Fancy people are fine. But these people, these neighbors are super super fancy, sick fancy."

building a new garden
And she's right. I've come to see these neighbors as mentally ill. It must be an unfathomable, unquenchable need for control that makes your own private five acres not enough, that makes your need to control spill out onto another's five acres. I can't imagine spending 65 years on this planet and never learning how to care more for others than for how things look. In their world, I am the bad neighbor, the inadequate one, the lazy one. But that's not true at all. It is me that endures the bad neighbors, the emotionally crippled neighbors, the psychologically lazy ones, the ones who won't do their internal work. I'm not a perfect neighbor/person myself but I try to care about people despite what I perceive as their shortcomings and in this case I think it's sad that they've never figured it out, they never grew past "middle school girl bully". Whatever is causing them distress about my property is not located on my property, it's inside them. Similarly, whatever is causing me continued stress about this situation isn't on them, it's within me. It's my need for approval, my insecurity. My work today isn't just cleaning up the property it is also not letting their mess spill over in to mine, not letting their mess stir up my anger, my resentment.  I find it difficult, but my intention is good mental hygiene.

Even if my yard was kept up to my own ideal (an overgrown wabi-sabi garden rather than hyper-controlled edges and exact pruning) it will never be in the range of what they want. We continue on here, doing what we will with our property as life, time, energy and funds allow. I can't let their interior messes mess with me. But it's hard. It hits me where I'm most vulnerable. I want to be liked by my neighbors. I want to be good enough, by all measures.

My new happy place!
In the end, I feel fortunate. I do have some great neighbors. I get to keep on here, in this soul-mate home. We get to live in a house fixed up to sell and a little closer to our price range. It took a year and there's still more to do, but bit by bit, our life feels like ours, our home feels like ours, our budget feels like ours. And we've done our duty, we're cleaning up our messes and then some.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Oxford Street Shelter

As we know, I married at 18 desperate to know who was going to love me forever and to have it in writing. I thought we were proving the vast chorus of naysayers wrong until Friday, September 13, 1996 when I discovered all that he'd been up to (in?). It was a month before my 21st birthday and I had exactly zero coping skills for such rejection. A girl so eager to have it all sown up shortly after her 18th birthday was not a girl on solid emotional footing, although I did a decent job of making it appear so.

I quit my resort receptionist job and hopped a Greyhound in hopes of something, distraction, redemption, I don't know anymore. Perhaps it wasn't hope at all, just agitation. I filled 7 journals during this time, all interlocking as I could never find my current journal and would use a new one until an older one showed up and then I'd use that until I lost it and repeat the process until I had 7 journals going at once. I recently took a confusing and white knuckled ride through these journals, screaming at the pages: WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING! Oh my god ohmygod ohmygod. And I don't mean the horrifying lack of organization, I mean the terrifying lack of concern for my own safety. I mean, I know that girl survives, but as I read those journals, it seemed beyond unlikely.

***

Making my Greyhound way from Orcas to Chicago, I get out to stretch my legs in the middle of the night at the Spokane station. A man starts up a conversation and I describe him in my journals as wearing satin shirts and being good looking and sitting next to me all the way to Butte trying to talk me in to coming to stay at his place for a bit. I note that he looks so much like a pimp that it was hard to believe he wasn't an actor on a cheesy tv show. OMFG girl, get your head out of your ass, he's actually a pimp. Lucky for me, I want nothing at all to do with any man at this point and his having a penis automatically disqualifies him from being taken seriously.

For a few nights I stay in my sister's dorm, just outside of Chicago. Later, I get a bed at a hostel in the center of the city. The basement is an ocean of pinball machines and I spend an inordinate amount of time drowning in them. I take drumming lessons. I try to sneak in to bars where favorite blues musicians are playing, but am rejected due to my age. I visit every single art museum in the city. I spend several days with the armor exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, admiring the artistry of impervious garments, the beauty of not getting hurt.

Chicago
New York City seems to call suddenly and I arrive in the late afternoon. I grab my small backpack, the only thing I've brought, that and a purple shoulder bag full of half filled journals and an enormous camera. I emerge from the station into a sunny afternoon. I stand at the door. I am in New York City, BABY! But I don't know where. I don't know where I want to go from the place that I don't know where it is. I don't have a map. I don't have much money. This girl, me, running on the idea that there are no bad ideas (the irony!) realizes that this might actually be one. I turn a 180 and queue up at the ticket counter. I tell the woman at the window that I want the next bus leaving the city. She hands me a ticket for Portland, Maine. As the bus navigates out of the chaos, I promise myself that I'll come back some day and someone will show me around and I'll have enough money to enjoy it all. I have never been back.

In Portland, I begin looking for a place to spend the night, a hostel, a room, something. Parked at the payphone, I learn that there's an elevator manufacturers' convention in town, plus President Clinton is here to bless an oil spill and hotelier after hotelier tells me that this means there are no rooms. The only one I find is at an expensive bed and breakfast 100 miles from Portland. I came in on the last bus and it's too late to leave this town now. I'm stuck here.

I decide to cafe hop all night. A solution so simple there's hardly a problem. I stash my backpack in a locker at the station. The first place I go is a restaurant named Papa's and I think that Lou Reed is mistaken in his cautions against eating at a place called Mama's. After too much coffee and some truly terrible soup, my journals get jittery, difficult to read and confusing. I realize that perhaps this is not the best time in my life to stay up all night writing about my feelings. I move on to a Uni dorm lobby, chatting with students as they come and go. At curfew I'm kicked out. I wander down to the waterfront, where the bars are. I'm days shy of 21 but no one will let me in. I'm feeling so low that I begin wondering about ways I could kill myself. The coffee is making my mind race and it's spinning out of my control. Plus, I really need to pee but the bouncers won't even let me in to do that. It's just constant rejection, up and down the street. I'm crying hysterically now and snot is burbling out of my nose. I have no tissues so I wipe with my sleeve, repeatedly shellacking my cheeks. I decide I need to call someone, someone who might care if I exist or don't exist, but someone not too wrapped up in it to freak out. I grab a payphone and call my ex-ing husband. (I eventually get actual, trained help with this later, so don't worry). He talks me down until I suddenly come to my senses, my olfactory senses specifically. "Ohmygod, what's that smell!! Holy shit! This phone is covered in vomit!" I drop it and run.

I try one last hotel, hoping that perhaps someone no-showed their reservations. No such luck, and also no public bathroom. But they point me to the YWCA up the hill.  As I turn the corner, hours of caffeine and watered down soup just can't be held back anymore and I wet myself thoroughly. It turns cold in seconds and my thighs chap as I waddle up hill to the YWCA.  The woman closing up the Y for the night tells me that tonight is the first hard freeze of the season and so all of the shelters are full, including theirs. I gesture at the nice couch in the lobby but she says she can't allow that. She eyes me, head to toe, and says I better use their restroom to freshen up before she has to kick me out.

In  the bathroom mirror, I see a girl covered in a variety of terrible bodily fluids. I try to clean myself, but it feels hopeless, pointless. I mostly just cry. Back in the lobby, she cheerfully tells me that one shelter has one bed open. It's across town. I'll have to walk miles, at night, through a dangerous area, and across a railroad yard, but they'll hold the door for me. I should be safe because no one will be out looking for trouble in this cold weather. I must leave immediately. I can hardly blame her for not offering to drive me but it's hard to imagine NYC turning out worse than this.

When I arrive at the Oxford Street Shelter, I endure several rounds of paperwork and then am allowed to mingle in the common room for a bit before lights out. A bakery messed up a wedding cake and I eat my fill, as Marie Antoinette suggested. There are only men in the common room now. At first I avoid them, but they are so nice that I move to their table.

They tell me their tales of woe and homelessness. One man tells me about his old factory job and how his coworker with kids got a lay off slip, but he talked the manager in to letting them trade, because he couldn't let those kids go hungry. They are kind and gentle men with super low IQ's or severe looking depression. I tell them I'm done with Portland and I hate this adorable little town. I tell them I'm thinking of trying out Bar Harbor. They erupt in excitement! They tell me I should really go to Bahaba. And I was like, "Bahaba? Where's that? Does the Grayhound go to Bahaba?" Yes, the bus goes to Bahaba, they assure me. They tell me I want to go to Bahaba. And I respond with, "Yes, but what about Bar Harbor?" And they say, yes, I should go to Bahaba. And I say great, maybe after I go to Bar Harbor, I'll try Bahaba. At this they erupt in frustration, slamming the table with their fists. I pull out a map and ask them to show me where Bahaba is. They point to Bar Harbor. And I say, "No, that's Bar Harbor. Show me Bahaba!" But they keep point at that little black dot and yelling "Bahaba!" Suddenly I realize we're doing a Nor'easterner's version of Who's on First. Bahaba is Maine-ish for Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor. Upon realizing the situation, our giggles quickly turn to belly laughs. As I look around me I think, A girl could get used to this. Delicious cake. A warm bed. Total freedom and good, kind company. What more could I want out of life?

It's lights out and I'm ushered into the last cot of Portland. The cot is about 18" wide with less than 12" between cots.  I'm encouraged by the caretaker to brush my teeth before bed and behind her the deadbolt clicks, locking us in, for our own safety.

Oxford Street Shelter looks partly kinda cute on a sunny Sunday morning
The bathroom is tiny and pink. And someone has smeared an oil based ointment on every single surface. The meticulous attention to detail is impressive. It's been q-tipped into the nooks and crannies of every screw and faucet. It's thick on the mirror and I feel fortunate I can't see myself.

I use my purple bag as a pillow. I stare up at the ceiling. It is a the dark room full of women, stacked like logs, snoring. To my left is a plump, short woman who overflows her cot and her thighs touch mine. To my right is a transvestite in white go-go boots and a mini-dress. No one seems concerned about her using this bathroom, but that was a different era. She sleeps so that her feet are in my face. I will wish she'd take off her boots, but then when she does, I'll wish she hadn't.  Every car that drives by wakes her up and she runs to the caged window and yells to the sodium vapor street light that she'll be right out. She always adds a name: Tim, Jim, Ryan.  But she won't be right out, because we're all locked in here.

I recognize that I'm hardly the ideal cot-mate either. I smell of urine and vomit and have a thick crust of snot over half my face. 

The plump woman to my left is snoring so loudly that I can't fall asleep. It is thunderous. I beg for god, who I'm beginning to think is made up or possibly a complete jerk, to make it stop. This, this is the prayer, the single prayer in my life that god answers. "He" could have used his own judgment here, but he passive-aggressively grants my ill-advised wish. Well played, mother fucker, well played.

As my wish comes true, her thunderous snores give way to giggling. And in her giggling she sometimes tells "Paul" to stop it. Stop tickling her. Stop telling jokes. Stop being so silly, Paul! So Paul stops being silly and gets dangerous. No Paul, she whispers, growls, I can't do that. You know I can't do that. Paul, what are you saying! That's not right. I could never. I couldn't harm her. She's getting louder, I wouldn't. You know that, Paul, so stop asking. Paul, NO. NO Paul. NO!!

I'm looking at her from the corner of my eye. I have no idea what Paul is telling her to do but it doesn't sound good. She sits up, her eyes open wide and she stares into my face. Screaming, spit flying, her eyes inches from mine: "DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND!?!?! YOU HAVE TO DIE!! You are going to die!!" From your lips to gods ears, honey.

If you are not crazy before homelessness, we can fix that.

Sleep is obviously out of the question. As soon as I hear the deadbolts in the morning, I bolt. The attendant yells something about breakfast, but I'd had it with the Oxford Street Shelter/Asylum.  In the cold morning light, I see how bad the neighborhoods I'd walked through are. I wonder at that woman at the Y sending me here, alone, at night. I find a Dunkin Donuts and buy myself, what else, more coffee, this time with donuts. Trembling, I am barely holding it together, perhaps only by the brute force of dried snot on my face.  A family strikes up a conversation with me. The mom says running away is never the answer. The dad says I can come home with them, get cleaned up, go to church with them. They say they know a nice shelter for me to stay at. But all I freak: well-meaning people are dangerous, sometimes rules need breaking and these people seem incapable of knowing when. I'd had it with obedient people, bouncers and hotel clerks and YWCA bitches and god and myself as well, getting married at 18, following all the rules and look what shit it all is.  At the word "shelter" I run so fast, I leave my coffee and donuts. I run and run. Running away might not solve every problem but it was very nicely solving the problem of stupid people talking to me, at least for a while.

I run back to the cheapest hotel. The clerk is shocked by my appearance, "Weren't you here last night? What happened to you?!"
"I stayed at the Oxford Street Shelter."
His jaw dropped. "oh. my. god. Not that place? Oh god, I'm so sorry. Had I known, I would've let you crash at my place." Oh great, another fucking pimp.
"We had an early check out. I'll go clean the room for you. I'll give you two nights for one."
I take an extremely long shower in the communal bath. When I returned to my room I open up a bottle of sleeping pills I acquired the day before. And I take as many as I feel like taking. I do not read the directions. I do not care. I want to sleep and if that is for a day or two or eternity, it does not matter to me anymore.

I took this photo just before I finally fell asleep
***

I awoke the next morning, nearly 24 hours later. I called my parents. They suggested a religious commune-ity outside of Boston where I stayed for a few months, safer, healing a bit, but also surrounded by a different kind of nut job and a whole other blog post or two about what happened next.  I am one of the lucky ones, spending only one night at that shelter, not weeks, months, years as was the case with some of the women.

Blue recently bemoaned that she'll never top my adventures (which she's just recently begun asking about) and I said that I hoped she cared enough about her own safety and value to not even try.  There are a great many things I am unsuccessful at; she could try one of those many low hanging fruits.

In my current life, things so look normal and occasionally some people make assumptions about me, about the path I took to get here, about how lock-step it must have been. But the truth is, whatever stability and normalcy I've found, I fought like hell to get and to keep. Maybe it's boring, but to me, now, this normalcy IS my wildest dream.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Trip of Fools

April Fools Day 2016: We leave at dawn. April Fools! We leave right after school. We are headed out on a rare spring break trip. Fresh off our August Yellowstone trip, I'm ready for another one already. I've been hankering for my first trip to Arches National Park for decades. Huck was against this 100%. He's a road warrior wuss and can't handle the idea of 14 hours of driving. Since I, a former road trip goddess, can't drive much anymore, I concede to his tolerance levels. I show the kids photos of Arches instead. They get excited and show Huck whose resolve starts to crack. I note that the park will be closed in 2017 and that the best time for us to go wouldn't be summer (because Blue faints and I wilt in heat), but spring. Yes, the nights may be freezing, but I buy a case of hand warmers and we will fill our sleeping bags with them.  Then we will roll on them while sleeping and leave burn marks on our tummies.

Blue at Arches
And here we are now, tetris'd in to our tiny SUV. We stop in Butte, Montana again. It's only been 9 months but the hotel we revisit has taken a serious dive. It's 10 pm, Coyote wants to swim and we'll be in a car for 9 hours tomorrow (haha, April fools! But we don't know that yet), so we swim. Despite huge signs that say no alcohol, there are piles and piles of empties. There is also food flung everywhere: chicken, tortillas, chips. It is disgusting. I get so grossed out that I run out of the room, even though the signs clearly say "No Running."  This is the perfect start to our trip, a deep, dark foreshadow of pretty much the whole thing.

Day 2: Today is our biggest day of driving (oh, we have NO idea!) We start the day singing the raggae classics at top volume and new sunglasses all around. We stop in Salt Lake City to see the Mormon temple. It is not nearly as beautiful as it looked on the 431 pictures of it hung in Coyote's piano teacher's living room. But as an historic structure, it's fascinating. There's some kind of conference here and the cherry trees are all blooming. It's is beautiful and vibrant. We are not Mormon, nor considering Mormonism, but we try to respectfully tour the grounds understanding that for many, this is a place of spiritual sustenance, though we don't understand it. The Mormon's do have a lot of great ideas about family that are worth cribbing.

We enter a visitor's center and peruse large paintings of the Old Testament, the New, and then the book of Mormon where we see dioramas of blond Jesus ministering to the Native Americans. At this point, it's really hard to remain respectful, but we rise to the challenge. We head up a spiral ramp into a stunning and trippy space-painted dome which houses a 20 foot tall Jesus. We take a family photo in which I look hot. I have to post it to Facebook immediately, despite not wanting to tip off possible thieves of our out-of-town-ness. But in the moment, being fleeced of all worldly possessions seems like a small price to pay for showing the world the only known decent photo of me. I am stunningly non-photogenic and no one believes me until they try to snap one themselves, then it's all "OMG! WTF, SARAJOY?! What the hell is wrong with you?!"
Space Jesus! Maybe not the best photo in the cold light of day.. but better than most
Testimonies are ringing out over the loudspeaker. One man describes his search for "the one true religion," an oxymoron. Another declares that we "know, in fact, that families are forever." This, in fact, involves zero facts, as most of us define that term. It's a phrase that will haunt us, especially in the later stages of road-tripping fiascos.

In the bathroom, I discover I've been blessed with the panty-stigmata. great. It's what every woman wants on a camping trip. I try to be grateful we aren't camping in bear country this time.

After the temple, I'm exhausted. I need sleep. All navigators, human and GPS, are silenced with sleep. I awake 2 hours later. We are nearly to Nevada. We are not supposed to be anywhere near Nevada. Turns have not been made. Directions were not clarified. No one realized the GPS was muted. We back track and cut across southern Utah, taking a back road that is windy and steep and makes me sick with it's spinning and lack of air. But it's beautiful. 14 hours of driving now. We roll in to the only camp ground I could make reservations at on such short notice, the short notice of three months. One has to plan far far in advance to get a campsite in Arches. I can't imagine the hubris in thinking you know what's going to go on in your life, what you'll want, so many years into future. This site is well reviewed, in the middle of Moab. Unfortunately, we can't drive up to our tent site. It's 11 pm and we have trek it all in 5 miles 1/2 a block. Trip after trip. This campsite will torture us for two days. When we car camp our car is the 5th family member, only much more useful. Perhaps, with much time, we could have figured out how to camp like this but in the two days we are here, no one sees anyone else, as we all make endless hikes to and from the car. We are not allowed fires in town, so the next night we will make s'mores over hurricane candles. Also, we live in the country and this city spot is much louder than our home.

Double Arches
Day 3: We enter the Arches. We peruse the maps, make a plan of attack and then abandon that plan on the first pull out. We are too excited. Everyone wants to hike, but the hike is too hard for me. I have only circled the hikes that say "perfect for families with young children." I drive to the pick them up point at the end of Park Avenue. Here I stare up at the red towers and I am so overwhelmed by awe that I ugly cry. We stop at every damn stop. Perhaps due to heat exhaustion, Huck gets REALLY excited over green dirt. He can't stop talking about it.We begin to plot his demise.

When you regret buying her climbing lessons
Day 4: We move to a more remote spot outside of town. It's got pit toilets, no running water. It's on the full and muddy Colorado River, in a deep gorge. After setting up our tent, we begin our second day in Arches. By the end of the day, I wonder if there isn't something wrong with us all, if we haven't gone soft after a winter of video games and "New Girl" binging. I'd have given us two days, tops, on the Oregon Trail back in the day. Other people's kids are running and climbing and jumping. Coyote is dragging.

Evening. We start our first real fire. Coyote's always pranking us so when he starts not making sense, I'm sure he's just messing with me. He "eats" dinner, but lets it all mush out of his mouth on to the ground. I'm getting annoyed with this "prank" 11 years in. When he starts mumbling incoherently, we discover he's got a fever. We give him ibuprofen. But he gets worse. He tries to eat Huck's shoulder and leg. He tells us he needs help and we tell him we are trying to help him. He says, "But then why can't I see you? Why is this wall here? Why can't I see anything?" I say, "E.R." Huck nods, grabs him and my phone. The ER is only 4 minutes away.

Before they get there, I roast my hand on an open fire. There's a starburst attached to it and i can't get it off and it continuously burns me. I'm screaming and running and I realize Huck has taken all of the ice and water and ibuprofen to the ER with the car. I soak my finger for an hour in the 1/2 cup of water left on the picnic table. A blister grows to the shape and size of California. For the rest of our "vacation," I will lick it over and over, thinking it's the last bit of chocolate from the Theo bars we eat every day after lunch.

I'm not doing well not knowing what is going on in the ER. My imagination is not built for this reality. Huck's phone (the one I have) runs out of juice. They get back around midnight. Coyote had a temperature of 104F, after Ibuprofen. He's got Influenza B and a strict medication regime that we will need to "religiously" (I'm not sure that's the term for us) follow for the next four days. It involves waking up at 2 am every night.

Day 5: A slow day. Everyone is tired. Huck insists I will not be happy with a slow day. He is remembering old Sarajoy, type-A traveler. My itinerary usually went:

-run before breakfast
-breakfast
-early morning activity
-late morning activity
-lunch
-early afternoon activity
-late afternoon activity
-dinner, evening activities.

I remind Huck that I now travel like a toddler with copious naps and very short, easy hikes, if any, and lots of crying. We decide to do a short river drive, checking out dinosaur prints and petroglyphs (but not from the same time period. You know that, right?)

Newspaper Rock
But before we go, I want to brush my teeth. In all our moving about the toiletries have gone missing. The bag is here, but the items are gone. No one has brushed their teeth for days. I keep thinking it will all show up, but it doesn't. We go to the grocery store in town, home of the world's most messed up parking lot maze. We buy everyone tooth brushes, toothpaste, dental floss, everything. We head to the bathroom to shave our teeth of all the hair they've grown. A pushy manager follows Blue and I in. She yells at us, "No bathing in the bathrooms!" I say, reasonably, we aren't bathing, we are just brushing our teeth. I show her the bag of stuff we just bought. She is super belligerent. It is obvious to her that we are trying to fuck with the store, disobeying rules I've never heard of. I'm confused. She marches us out of the store as if we are shoplifters. I feel humiliated and angry. Certainly there are better ways to inform people of your odd rules. We brush our teeth in the parking lot, leaving huge chunks of toothpaste to dry in this crazy maze. Perhaps their Minotaur will find his way here and freshen up a bit. I go back into use the toilet for it's actual purposes and hear her loudly bragging about her bathroom victory to her underlings. She says, "They won't look you in the eye. That's how you know. And THEN you're doing your job." ... as if that even makes sense. I just wanted to brush my teeth. I'm not "they." I'm not a criminal. I just didn't know you had rules like that. It puts me on edge. I'm grumpy now. I feel trapped in a town that hates the hands that feed it. I've lived in tourist towns before and it's easy to hate "them." But unless you are independently wealthy, "they" are the only reason you get to live where you do.

Back at the car, I discover the toiletries are actually in the toiletries bag, just in a side pocket I forgot existed. 

Now Huck, understandably tired, is being an asshole. An argument ensues along our drive. It is unpleasant. But in therapy I'm working on not caring what others think and I decide to REALLY apply that work at a populated picnic spot along the Colorado River. We're all sleep deprived and stressed out and hurt and those parts of our brain that make sense of the world have run out of juice and shut down. But we work it out eventually and all happily eat at a diner in town because Blue says she's never eaten diner food. I get a salad with nothing on it because everything is soaked in wheat here... even the fucking milk shakes!

Day 6: Mesa Verde, the cliff dwellings of the ancient Pueblo. It's a bit of a drive, but at least it's not a bit of a hike. The "open" cliff village is actually closed because it's collapsing and no one knows why or how to stop it. The other villages require guided tours, which start in 4 days, when we return home. I'm sorely disappointed. I've wanted to visit since seeing photos in a Social Studies book 30 years ago. I've called and emailed, begging for maybe a practice tour. I settle for seeing the 1000 year old dwellings from across the canyon. Everyone loves this day and this trip, although I'm certain it could have been better.
Mesa Verde: closed

2AM: Huck wakes me up, "I'm going to barf!" He runs from the tent. And he ralphs, hard and loud into the concrete pit toilet. It echoes, through the campsite, through the canyon, the entirety of Southern Utah. We have attached sleeping bags and I speedily unzip us apart and toss his bag out of the tent. He sleeps in the car. We all use the pit toilet at the other end of the campground for the rest of the trip, though he swears he cleaned up.
Camp ground in echo-y canyon

Day 7: Blue and I buy showers at the local gym. Due to dryness, lack of showers and a profusion of bandanas, my hair is supremely flaccid. My family barely recognizes me and my hair, cut for uneven and uncontrollable waves, is now uneven and odd. None of them knew about my Dennis the Menace cowlick, camouflaged as it was among my curls. But it sticks out now, like a hoodoo in the desert. When we leave the gym, we walk across a park that appears to be covered in dog crap. COVERED. Every square inch has a round log on it. I panic, run back to the sidewalk, and wonder about this crazy ass town and where the hell they got all of this dog crap. I realize that they've just done some aeration/plug thing and the dirt is red/brown and we proceed across the lawn safely.

Jumping Needles: Coyote is back!
We drive to the Needles District of Canyonlands. It's incomprehensibly beautiful. I ugly cry again. It will be 4 times before this trip is over.  On the way there, I see a raven gagging. This is not a good sign from my totem bird, but I dismiss it because totem animals are stupid superstitious crap. In minutes we realize that the lighter fluid (not something I usually use but the firewood we picked up in Moab was so green it looked like Kermit's dismembered body) had leaked all over the back of the car. The next three days will be spent driving with the windows down.

Day 8: My god, someone shoot me. I'm so over this trip. We decide we need a laundry day even though we're very near the end. Some members of this family smell like rotting flesh and need showers. The boys shower while Blue and I tend to the laundry. The laundromat seems fine on the outside, but inside is an alternate universe from the 70's. Most of the gold and avocado green machines are broken. There is no change machine, you have to go to the window every time. An grody old man runs the place. He checks me out creepily. He chain smokes and everything smells. Everything is dirty. He has about 7 women working for him and I can't figure out what they all do here. I conclude that it's a super dysfunctional harem situation. Blue and I sit on a filthy couch while we wait for the dryers to literally melt the spandex in my favorite jeans. We get to brush our teeth in the damn bathroom.

Couch in Landromat, Moab, UT
The rest of the day is spent at the incomprehensibly beautiful overlooks of Canyonland's Island in the Sky District. I can't even describe it. And photos can't get close to the feeling of being in that landscape. I'm overwhelmed and nap and cry and go numb on picnic tables while they hike.  Everyone else is back to being energetic and I'm relieved to see it was just sickness, not softness, that made them so lethargic for the first 2/3 of the trip.

Canyonlands. Don't even imagine this is what it's really like.
Day 9: On our way north we stop by superb dinosaur tracks and put our hands in them to feel the 150 million years between us. I'm feeling like I'm in a good driving groove and could go all the way, but I've made reservations at a KOA in Eastern Idaho. We make our way 10 miles off the highway and find ourselves in a little heaven called Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. Hot springs are required for every road trip of mine. In Yellowstone, we hiked in to wormy, slimy Huckleberry Hot Springs. By contrast, this was tastefully developed and 100% less wormy. We wished we'd stopped here at the beginning of the trip. Everyone is relaxed and happy. Finally. We ran into the people we camped next to in Moab. We eat the best Thai food I've ever had. When I ask if the dish I want has any wheat (or soy sauce with wheat) in it, I'm waiting for the eye roll and annoyed huffing. Instead the waitress asks if I have Celiac's. She then enthuses at me about all the many many dishes I can have and how careful they are with cross contamination. The last time I accidentally had wheat, I was in the ER for most of Christmas Eve. I have to take it seriously. And I'm relieved someone else does too.

sitting in Camararus tracks
We play poker with Starburst ante back at the cabin. We do indeed bribe the kids on camping trips by feeding them everything they never get at home. Coyote wins so much that everyone starts gobbling their ante before he can win it too.

Day 10: My only hope is that we meet the Donner party and they eat me first. please. why did we do this. Nine more hours on the road. The kids eat sandwiches in the car and by sandwiches I mean Oreo lemon sandwich cookies. We arrive home. Everything has bloomed and our home feels perfectly wonderful. Why do we ever leave? Huck and I hug. We are alive, reconciled. The Mesa Verde tours finally open, 17 hours away. I sleep for three days.

 


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