Friday, December 28, 2007

Of Ferries, Accents, and Bonnie Scotland: Travel Adventure Part II

When I was in college I had a map of Ireland that I bought from a map store in Washington DC. It was current and fancy and very very detailed, and I used to stare at it as I'd plan my adventures.

On this map, it listed a ferry service from Liverpool to Belfast, indicated that it was an overnight journey, and indicated the route of travel with a helpful dashed line that extended across the blue expanse of the Irish Sea. Since it was on the map, this is the way I had planned to get to Belfast after my visit to Liverpool.

In case you are wondering, I saw Penny Lane, and Matthews Street (Reference: Alarm song 'Spirit of '76, for my husband's benefit), and all of the notable Beatles landmarks. We drove by their boyhood homes, etc. The rest of the visit was spent in my friend's grim church, (I didn't mind the church part, it was the grim part I objected to.) a day jaunt to the Peak District (Ooo look! The house where Brideshead Revisited was filmed! Pause to reflect how much of a PBS watching dork I am, that I've even SEEN that.), a very strange alcohol-free New Years Eve, etc. But now it was time to leave my friend and sally forth to my intended destination.

My friend takes me to the BritRail terminal to book my ferry ticket. The gentleman behind the counter informs me that the ferry service was suspended due to rough seas. Permanently. I asked him what my options were. "By train? Up into Scotland, then you can take a ferry from there." Allrighty! "So when does that train run?" "THAT train? Its four trains, love." Okay, I pick a time to leave, and he prints me a ticket (actually, a stack of tickets) and I'm on my way.

I will say this-- train travel is, in itself, a very pleasant and civilized way to see a place you've never seen. Right up until old ladies start passing out and the fog rolls in.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I board the train with the lunch my friend's mother has packed for me(Cheese sandwiches on white bread and 'crisps' and tiny cans of Coke--his mom was some kind of trailertrash vegetarian) , and about 1/3 of the luggage I came to London with; after being coerced into laying all of it out on a bed and then picking ONLY what I needed. Away I go.

The first two trains involved boarding in stations in England. The first change from train #1 to train #2 goes flawlessly. Then we journey northward into that craggy bit of Scotland along the upper left coast. I'm sure that has a name. I shall call it "Endless rolling hills and tons of freaking sheep-land", or Erhtfsl, for short. A loong time after I board train #2, I reach my intended station and disembark.

I'll spare you the Harry Potter imagery because there was no magic platforms or Hogwarts or anything of the kind at this point, but the station definitely looked like something from a movie, probably something involving a lot of talking and opening and closing doors. It was the talking that got me into trouble. I go to the ticket counter and ask, "Excuse me, I need to board the train for (increasingly difficult to pronounce Scottish town)...where should I be?" I get an answer. There are words, and a pleasant facial expression that ends with a flick of the eyebrows that suggests our business is concluded. There is only one problem. I do not understand him.

At all.

I thank him, suppress panic, and walk until I am out of his sight line. I find another nattily dressed ScotRail employee and pose the same question. I get an answer, accompanied by a hand gesture that suggests I walk in a particular direction. I thank him and go. I wait for him to round the corner. I approach a lady with a small white dog in a wire cage and ask again. She assures me I am in the right place and I decide she is my new best friend and I don't leave her side until we board the train, at which point I can thank her and disappear.

Or she can sit across from me and grill me about every detail of my life for the next hour and a half.

Why am I no good at politely conveying my desire to not talk anymore? What is it about my face that says 'tell me all your darkest secrets, leave no horrifying detail unshared'? I excuse myself from my seatmate and go to take some pictures of sheep. I come back, and there's a bit of a problem. My seatmate is sweaty and pale. (Now I know that is called 'diaphoretic with poor perfusion'. ) She looks like she might pass out. A train employee tends to her. Her dog stares at me with watery black eyes like its all my fault. Now I have to stay with her. Fair enough. We should be almost there.

Now we enter the part of the trip I call Stopping For No Reason. Every twenty minutes or so, the train would just stop. And sit there ticking. And everyone ignored it. Once I figured it was because of the dense fog, but we started up again in a short time and the fog hadn't dissipated so I am still mystified what could have been holding us up. I can't imagine there is heavy train traffic in Erhtfsl, unless its sheep shearing time, so I'm stumped. But we slowly make our way up the coast and arrive at my intended destination.

Stranraer Harbor. (That's pronounced Strahn-RAAAR, but even with this help it'll still get stuck on the back of your tongue somewhere and induce a faint gaggy feeling. Even if you don't say it out loud. No wonder I don't understand these people.) My ferry awaits me. Only its not my ferry; being paranoid I might get there late, I booked passage on the one that departed about four hours later. Never mind, I think. I'll just sit in the waiting area and read and.....

I peer through the smudgy double doors into the waiting area because a noise not unlike Happy Hour on Super Bowl Sunday is coming from that direction. Seated on virtually all horizontal surfaces in the room are men. Men in 'football jerseys' (not of the Green Bay Packers variety). And they are singing. And they are drunk. I don't know why they aren't getting on the ferry. I'm assuming that security has wisely decided to let them dry out a little first, though apparently no one has noticed that nearly every one of them is clutching a giant can of Tennent's. I consider my options, and decide that the forbidding-looking security guards at the checkpoint are my best bet. "Excuse me, sir? I have a ticket for the next ferry. But if I don't get on this one, I'll have to spend four hours with them," pointing over my shoulder, trying to look as innocent as possible. He weighs my harrassment potential, punches my ticket, and waves me up the ramp. "Thank you, sir," I say.

I'm a little nervous about this trip; though this trip is considerably shorter, this is the same Irish Sea that caused cancellation of the last ferry. And its January. But we cast off and I think, well, this isn't so bad after all. I snap some pictures and settle in to a nice seat. We move through Loch Ryan. Yes, its a Loch. A lake-type thingy. With sides. We aren't in the open sea yet. The ferry is huge, multiple decks, full size restrooms, restaurants, etc. I'm sure it'll be just as nice all the way to Ireland. I don't at all think we'll hit the open sea and this enormous vessel will jam up and down on chop so bad that I will start looking around for the Professor and Mary Ann. Nope. I don't think that at all. Until it happens.

I've never been seasick before. I've been on all sorts of boats. But this ginormous floating restaurant is apparently just the ticket to screw up my equilibrium and send my cheese sandwiches and crisps a-churning. I close my eyes and try to remember where that point on your wrist is that you press on to make the barfy feeling stop. What a perfect time for Chatty Seatmate #212 to park himself next to me.

Now, I have to take a moment to explain here that some of my friends I was going to stay with were politically involved in Ireland, and that there was a certain degree of harassment they had come to expect in day to day life. As such, they took great pains to warn me not to give a lot of detail to strangers about where I was staying or what I was doing there. This is in the back of my mind as this man asks questions, and keeps coming back to where I'm staying. Time to ditch him. I excuse myself, lurch to the ladies' room, and conveniently fail to return to my seat.

We finally get to Larne. I wonder briefly whether the soccer dudes are being deemed seaworthy over on the other side as I find and board my train. I arrive in Belfast, call my friends, and meet them at the hotel bar. Three countries in one day. There would be more adventures of the less humorous variety, someday I'll do a '10 Reasons Why I'll Never Get Invited to the White House' list and tell ya about them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Hey kids! Its Boxing Day!
Yep, I'm American, and for me, that means, well, absolutely nothing. I'm not even going to bore you with an explanation of what it is because really, who cares. Look it up on Google search like I would if I wasn't so freaking lazy.
Someone posted about this non-holiday and I found myself thinking about the only time I gave a hoot in Hades about it. And really, I didn't start out caring, I just found out the hard way that I should have.
In the winter of 1991, I spent my January term of senior year in the north of Ireland. (I won't bore you with the details, those of you who have any notions about that can probably tell what color my curb is painted just by my calling it that but its a story for another time.) My plan was to leave just after Christmas, fly to England, spend a week with a friend, and take the ferry to Belfast. I bought my plane tickets and made my arrangements. Departure, 26 December. Arrival, 27 December, crack of dawn.
Okay, so whether I think its pointless or not, Boxing Day is a holiday. Stuff is closed, people are off work, life slows down. Guess when life picks back up again. Yep, December 27th.
I dutifully watch the instructional film on going through customs at Heathrow while on the plane, disembark starry-eyed, and start walking. As I do so, I'm having incredibly stupid thoughts that I'm glad no one is around to hear. "Wow! I'm in England! I'm not in the US anymore! Those are English fluorescent bulbs! Those are English floor tiles! Wow!" (Shut up. I was 21 and my passport was as stiff as a pair of new shoes. )
I collect all my luggage, answer the requisite questions, get my 'Leave to Enter Three Months' visa, and look for the bus terminal.
It is important to note a couple of things here. One, I am alone. Two, no one is picking me up. Three, I am bound for LIVERPOOL. Four, my luggage consists of a loaded backpack, a leather jacket, an Army duffel bag loaded to the clasp that weighs about 60 pounds, and a guitar. Hey. I didn't know what I'd need. So I brought it.
I am from the Philadelphia area. We have an airport. From any terminal, its about a five minute brisk walk to the curb. The train? Its right there. The bus? Right there. Cabs? Right there. Heathrow, on the other hand, is approximately the size of the state of Delaware. I'm pushing my luggage through Delaware and, apparently, the National Express terminal is in Newark. At a certain point, I ditch the luggage trolley, convinced someone is going to think I am stealing it because I could not possibly be walking this far and still be in the airport.
Finally, I reach the National Express office and walk into what sounds to me like an open casting call for Eastenders. I approach the counter and explain to the woman whose facial expression managed to be both bored and murderous at the same time that I needed to go to Liverpool.
"What, today?"
Uh oh.
Yes, today. I give her a couple of bills with pictures of my grandma in a tiara on them and she gives me a ticket with a giant neon sticker on the cover. It says STANDBY PASSENGER. I go to the curb, call my friend, and tell him where I am. He sort of laughs. Then he tells me to call him when I get to Liverpool.
The next three hours involves buses coming and my not getting on them, whilst being gazed upon with pity by a few dozen people with giant plastic sacks of Christmas presents. I go back inside and offer counter woman my firstborn if she can get me on the bus. She assures me that I should get on the next one.I drag my luggage back outside and wait.
The next bus comes, and bless the Lord, oh my soul, they let me on. I shove what I can in the storage compartment underneath, hoist my backpack into my lap, and away we go.
Some geography-- London and Liverpool are 328 km apart. 205 miles. They are connected by major highways. Its essentially a Harrisburg to Pittsburgh hop.
Unless you board the chainsmoking compulsive tourguide excursion bus from hell.
My friend at National Express didn't explain to me that my salvation bus was one that would stop in EVERY. SINGLE. TOWN. between London and Liverpool. Oh, she didn't explain a lot of things. Like if I had taken the Tube to Victoria Station, I could have gotten a direct bus that would have taken me there in about 3 hours. I can only believe that she's had a run in with the karma train already on that score. She just wanted a jetlagged American who looked like she had come for the World Busking Championships out of her face. Fair enough.
I put on my headphones and passed out face first in my backpack. I was the sort of tired where conversation was ill-advised. But my seatmate managed to extract from me that I was a first time visitor to the Isles. So every so often, I'd get poked.
"Look. This is Stratford. Shakespeare's from here."
"Look. We just passed through (wherever). (Random history fact.)"
I contemplate, but ultimately reject, a degree of rudeness I've never ever exhibited.
Soon, her attentions would be the least of my worries. The bus swings into a huge terminal, stops, and everyone stands up. Am I here? I thought. Did I make it?
It is evening, I have been awake for 52 hours straight, and I am in Birmingham, England.
I can only assume that the REST of Birmingham is lovely. This part of Birmngham looks like a disused cattle auction. But nevermind that, EVERYONE IS GETTING OFF. I talk to the driver.
"What happens now?"
"Changeover, love, go over there and they'll tell you where to go."
At this point I am physically incapable of carrying sixty pounds of duffel bag, a backpack, a leather jacket, and a guitar. I simply stand between the buses and cry. A group of people gathers around me, studiously avoiding eye contact and, apparently, waiting for the bus I'm waiting for. They start to chat, to verify this fact, and quickly discover that while half of them are going my way, half of them are not, and all of them have been instructed to wait for the same bus. Say what you want about Americans, y'all, but these people were ready to throw down the giant bags of Christmas presents and rumble to see whether we were going to Dover or Liverpool. Once the discussion volume got a bit past civilized a group of uniformed National Express employees streamed out of an office and interceded. Someone points me to a bus. I flex my now dislocated shoulders for one more luggage carry.
Now, its dark. I have no idea what time it is, all I know is that I am on a bus, on a highway, headed to Liverpool, four days before smoking on public transport is banned forever in the UK, and everyone is making the very very most of their last four days. Oh, and traffic is completely gridlocked, just in case I was feeling homesick. Well meaning fellow travellers are still trying to make conversation.
I finally arrive in Liverpool, and can't shake the weird sensation I'm still somewhere around Newark, New Jersey. (Liverpool is somewhat nicer by day so don't be offended.) My friend comes to collect me. He says "How was the trip?" I muster the last of my strength and hang the sixty pound duffel bag on his shoulder. For now, I'm home.
Next installment: Why Its Important to Make Sure the Ferry You've Planned To Take Actually Still Exists.
Hey! Book your next excursion to funny at Humor

Checking Out

“Suicide was against the law. Johnny had wondered why. It meant that if you
missed, or the gas ran out, or the rope broke, you could get locked up in prison
to show you that life was really very jolly and thoroughly worth living.”
--Terry Pratchett

Christmas Night.
I was just washing up the last of the dishes when my pager went off. "Stand by at your stations; call the center for details." I pulled on my coat as I dialed county dispatch. I really didn't have to call the center for details; I could have just gone down to the station, but I wanted to know what, exactly, was going to mark my first on-duty Christmas. "You've got a drug overdose, with alcohol, the patient is being a little combative so we're getting the state police over there before you go in."
Aces. Just aces.
When I got to the house, the rest of the crew plus ALS and a former member home for the holiday greeted me and we rolled, party of five. I was happy there were so many of us since I didn't know exactly what 'combative' was going to mean. The first thing I saw was a quart bottle of Yukon Jack on the counter, and most of it was gone. Nice little place, dish out for the cat, Christmas tree, and a man in a recliner flanked by two staties who are explaining to him that he needed to get his shoes on. While he was doing this, his daughter asked him if he was planning to leave any kind of a note. "Nope!" he said cheerfully. He pulled on his shoes, tossed an afghan at the cat, and came smiling into the kitchen, where he scooped up his coat and stared in wonder at the number of people in the house. The crew chief made introductions and he greeted us all with a broad smile. "Jeez! All these people!" as if he just walked into a surprise birthday party. We walked him to the ambulance and in the course of questioning I learned that he took two whole bottles--pain medication and sleeping pills. He kept explaining how he just wanted the world to leave him alone and he just wanted to die, and this news is delivered with the same magnanimity as everything else he said. The paramedic drew blood, we monitored his vitals, and he asked each one of us in turn if we are having a good evening.
After assessing the relative happiness of each of our Christmases he demanded of one of the crew "Do you know the true meaning of Christmas?" The crewmember gave him a quick answer of neutral, professional benevolence, something that conveyed "We'll be at the hospital soon, just hang in there."
Our very medicated patient declared "Its when God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners," in a way that made me expect him to recite Luke 2 in its entirety. We got him into the ER, and when I stopped back with paperwork a good while later, the entire group of family, frends, and neighbors who followed us to the hospital were still clustered together, waiting. I looked at the varying expressions on their faces, while they came to terms with what brought them there on a night that is not supposed to be spent in a hard plastic chair in a brightly-lit hallway, and all I could think of was "And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart". She had an initially fearful but eventually hopeful Christmas to ponder in dark times. I sincerely hope these people will too.

Monday, December 24, 2007

God Bless Us, Everyone

Oh, yes, Virginia. That's me and Mr. C.
I do remember this photo. Grant's department store, Philadelphia, PA. I was four.
Something about this Santa was creepy and I wasn't having any of it. Did I pick out that outfit? You betcha.
Its Christmas Eve, we are home and planning to watch the 1951 Alistair Sim 'Christmas Carol' fortified by some Christmas spirit of our own. The cat is sporting a 'noghawk', he slapped an eggnog milkshake off the counter earlier and then stood under the plastic bag holding all the sopping napkins I cleaned it up with, which of course had a leak, patiently licking whatever dripped through and absorbing the rest just behind his left ear until I discovered his ministrations to my increasingly sticky floor and cleaned it up properly.
We spent the night last night at our in-laws and enjoyed family, friends, and decorations, I haven't gotten much done in the way of decorating at home so it was nice to be in a house where there is even a Nativity scene (flanked with candles) in the bathroom. (I still intend to do something here. Really. ) In the meantime, the breakfast casserole is ready to be fired up tomorrow morning, our gifts are wrapped, and most importantly, in this cold winter week we have each other--and we'll have a simple, grateful Christmas day. I wish you all the same.
Feliz Navidad!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Prozac Ye Merry, Gentlemen

I haven't posted much (read: anything) about Christmas. Everyone is doing their Christmas themed blogs, yet I've gotten no closer than a discussion about snow. Which is kinda Christmassy. Kinda.
Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas. I have lots of nice memories, a great set of in-laws to spend it with, and a family that almost never resorted to any combination of alcohol and bitter recrimination around the holidays. I kind of suck at getting decorations up and generally getting things together early enough, but that's just a quirk I've come to embrace.
I think my problem is that I'm too acutely aware of the fact that this season is hard for some people, for a variety of reasons. Finances, displacement, loss, whatever. I think about those people too much and those thoughts run a continual counterpoint to all the 'being of good cheer'.
Consider this your wee taste of Christmas Dark. If nothing else, it will make the rest of your weekend seem wonderful.
I call this song the Perfect Storm of Christmas Depression. Note that the performer here (if you can get through it) is not Randy Stonehill, but he does a decent job. If you can't bear it, here are the lyrics.

They got Christmas Muzak
Piped in through the ceiling
And the refills of coffee
Are always for free
And the waitress on graveyard
And the surly night manager
Are wishing that all of us losers would leave
There’s a star on the sign
At the Texaco Station
Like the star long ago
On that midnight clear
As I look all around
At these cold, empty faces
I doubt that you'd find many wise men here
And I'm dreaming about
A silent night - Holy Night
When things were alright
And I'm dreaming about
How my life could have been
If only, if only, if only
But somewhere down the road
I gave up that fight
Merry Christmas
It's Christmas at Denny's tonight
Once I had a home
And a wife and a daughter
Had a company job
Earning middle-class pay
Then Lisa got killed
By a car near the schoolyard
And my wife started drinking
Just to get through each day
I will never forget
That little red wagon
Turning to rust
All alone in the rain
One morning I flagged down a truck on the highway
I just couldn't bear
To go back there again
And I'm dreaming about
A silent night - Holy night
When things were alright
And I'm dreaming about
How my life could have been
If only, if only, if only
Well, it's not just the blind man
Who loses his sight
Merry Christmas It's Christmas at Denny's tonight
They sayLife's made of cruel circumstance
Fate plays the tune and we dance
Dance til we dropIn the dust and we're gone
And the world just goes on
The cop at the counter
He's the guardian angel
He watches these orphans
Through dark mirrored shades
And the register rings
Like a bell sadly tolling
For the fools we've become
And the price that we paid
Oh when I was a boy
I believed in Christmas
A miracle season
To make a new start
I don't need no miracle
Sweet baby Jesus
just help me find
Some kind of hope in my heart
And I'm dreaming about
A silent night - Holy night
When things were alright
And I'm dreaming about
How my life could have been
If only, if only, if only
But I'll still be here
At the morning's first light
Merry Christmas
It's Christmas at Denny's tonight


The only thing this song lacks is dead pets and meteorological disasters. Jeez, Randy. It makes the Christmas Shoes seem positively gleeful by comparison. (Funny story about THAT song; I was once in an airport shuttle van with a bunch of strangers and that song came on somewhere between the Commodore Barry Bridge and Philadelphia Airport, in just enough time that the whole vanful ended up sitting in silence listening to it. When we got to the Delta curb and got out, every single person in the van had obviously been crying, including the gruff and surly driver, who pulled all our luggage out of the back and drove off as quickly as possible.)

Anyway, I'll be making an effort to post more cheery bits of Christmas in the next few days, I've got a picture of me -n- Santa somewhere, if I can just figure out how to use the darned scanner.

Go visit humor, before you make the Baby Jesus cry.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Snow Day

I meant to post this yesterday. Really I did.
I left for work like a good little soldier despite the fact that the sky seemed to be dumping snow at a movie-machine- fake alarming rate...mostly because I work for people who believe that if you live in the Northern Tier you need to put your big girl panties on and deal with bad weather and I wasn't in the mood for recrimination.

I drove about halfway to Mansfield at around 27 MPH. Yes, I'm that person in front of you with a 10 year old car and no 4 wheel drive. You can hate on me all you like, after you pass me I'll pull up behind you when you end up in the ditch and hold your head until the ambulance comes.
But wonder of wonders, I was diverted with a phone call and given leave to return to Tranquility Base and I did so. Even cranked it up to 30 or so. I barely made it up the steep street that leads to mine, scurried in the house, and never stuck my nose outside for the rest of the day. So no, I didn't take the picture above. Someone from the Grand Canyon Snowmobile Club did.

I love a snow day. Read books, did my nails, took a nap, took another nap. The huz was also home, doing his thing. I was given stern direction not to use him as 'blog fodder', so I can't say much about him. I'm not allowed.

Besides, he hasn't done much that was funny lately. But we've had our adventures.

When we were first married, we lived in a ridiculously small apartment. In fact, the last college dorm room I lived in (Naugle Basement, Messiah College. Holla!) was roughly 2 1/2 times the size of this place. We had just enough room for a tiny table, a couch, a double bed, and a TV on a pressboard stand that could be turned so it was in our 'bedroom', or in the 'living room'. The building itself had been a mansion at one time in the dimly distant history; when the property was sold and subdivided to make a development of homes we would never be able to afford, the old house was also subdivided into apartments. It is a three story house. They managed to make it into THIRTEEN apartments. The bedroom portion of the apartment actually stuck out from the side of the building, with supports underneath it; it looked like a treehouse. A treehouse built over a parking lot.

So naturally, we got a water bed.

I worked for a moving company and someone in my Florida office offered me this bed. My agreeing to this involved the acceptance of a couple of half-truths involving ease of assembly that, in retrospect, I am ashamed I fell for. The bed arrived, a pile of unrecognizable lumber and a headboard that could best be described as 'redneck chic'. (Kind of like this one, only with roses painted on the mirror. Can you hear the strains of 'Sweet Home Alabama' in the background? Thought so.)
We put the bed together in about an hour. It was startling; it didn't look like much in a pile but assembled, it commanded a full 1/3 of our apartment, effectively filling the 'bedroom' alcove. I wasn't about to turn back now; I spread out the liner, and then it was time to deal with the mattress. We squared it up, hooked up the filling hose deal and connected it to the mattress and let 'er rip. Wow, waterbed mattresses fill up pretty fast. And somewhere between quite a lot of water and a metric buttload of water, we realized, hey, it might not be a bad idea to check this mattress and make sure it doesn't, you know, have any holes in it.
The Huz and I hauled up a corner of the mattress to have a look, and sure enough, there was a bit of water between it and the liner. There was a large hanging tag on the spout to the mattress so I searched it for some helpful advice. It said something like this:
So I got a tea towel and jammed it in there. Fifteen minutes later, I heard a squirting noise that filled me with dread. I ran around the bed looking for the leak, heart pounding. But it wasn't my bed. It was my downstairs car-obsessed neighbor out for his 11:30pm car wash. Relieved, I hauled up the mattress again.
I had a feeling at this point it wasn't condensation; the tea towel was floating on a gently wafting eddy of water. Crap. I started thinking about the 'liner', the sheet of plastic that stood between this moment and me losing my security deposit. I took out the 'Magic Drain', this contraption that was supposed to drain a waterbed via the kitchen faucet, and hooked it up.
One thing the Magic Drain folks fail to tell you is that it takes HOURS to drain a waterbed. We lay down on the floor and tried to sleep with the whole thing running. I only slept long enough to have a dream that seemed very much like Airport '77, complete with singing nuns and Darren McGavin. At 5 o'clock in the morning the mattress was sufficiently flaccid and we shut off the water. I figured, hey, there isn't that much in there, I'll just drag it into the shower and drain it.
Here's your science lesson for the day, kids: water is heavy. Water in a giant plastic sack laying in a wooden frame two feet above the ground without handles hates you and wants you to die. We dragged it, we pulled it, it fell on us and we crawled out from under it, I wrestled with the drain opening for half an hour and finally slashed it open with scissors and let it drain, and dragged the whole mess into the dumpster at dawn. Then we called Dial-a-Mattress or somesuch and got a proper bed.
I realize that isn't a Huz story. But its the one that came to mind on the way to The Day The Whole Fire Department Came to Our House. Next time, perhaps.
Please visit and see who else all your base belong to.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Crib Notes

Part of my job involves settling claims. Even the best moving companies break things now and again, and my job is to get it fixed/replaced for the customers in a timely manner. When they aren't complete lunatics this is usually pretty easy.
I spoke to a nice lady this morning who has a broken crib. She told me where she bought it and gave me a general idea of what it cost, and I went to that store's website to check it out and make sure that we're cutting her a check that will pay for replacement of the crib. God bless the internet.

I was searching for a closer photo of the broken mechanism she described so I could understand the damage better. (I may be a maven of furniture technology but I don't have any crib-dwellers in my house, so I can't say I've ever looked at one up close. ) I scrolled down and discovered that, just like, crib-purchasers can post little reviews and opinions.

The only thing is, it did scratch when our cat jumped onto the rail and
used her back claws to push off. That actually did not bother me so much, but it
may someone else. I just figure wood will scratch anyway and my baby will
probably do some damage when she is old enough to play in and around it.

Provided the rail-jumping cat doesn't have other ideas about this stupid baby who is apparently here to stay.

Once assembled, it is a beautiful crib. The honey oak color is very warm and
goes great with the Hawaiian themed nursery bedding.

Interesting choice. Winnie-the-Pooh in a grass skirt and coconut bra, then?

My step-mother decided to buy this for us since it was on our registry. Our son
is 5months old and we just put it up last night. It LOOKS great! I actually LOVE
IT! It did scratch easily, and it takes up a lot of room. Looks really expensive
and is well worth every penny.

So let's review. Its too big, it scratches easily, but it looks expensive, so its worth every penny. That you didn't pay. Oh, and way to be on top of assembling furniture before your kid's in kindergarten.

I loved the way it looked untill my son got his teeth and chewed the side rail
to pieces.

Perhaps the crib isn't the issue needing to be addressed here.

We really like this crib. Our son who is 4 1/2 months sleeps so well. The one
thing that I have a problem with are the sides. It is hard to get a mobile to
fit on the side of the crib. But I can live with that since my son enjoys his
crib so much. My husband and his dad put it together which was quite funny
to watch. Even though they are not the most gifted at putting things together
they got it done in about an hour. It does scratch easily, but you can
only see it if you're looking for it. Who's going to be looking with a lovely
little baby in it?

1) He's four and a half months old. You could get him to sleep in a dresser drawer on the socks.
2) Way to dis your husband and his dad in a public forum.
3) What if your child is homely? Will you then become scratch-obsessed?

The only complaint is that the instructions aren't that detailed, you kind of
have to use common sense for most of it. Not something you want to do when
building a crib for a newborn!

Yes, God forbid common sense should be any part of your child's life.
Visit Humor and enjoy writers who understand how to game the alignment in their blogs better than me!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Adventures with Gravity

I was reading another blog today that got me reminiscing about one of those activities that
clearly was never meant for me: skiing. (Someday, after much therapy, I'll talk about horseback riding as well.) I grew up driving distance from the finest skiing the Poconos had to offer. Scoff if you will, Killingtonites (Killingtonians?), but Northeast Pennsylvania had all the glorified bunny hills and lodge decor out of a 70's porn movie you could handle.
There were always Those Kids in school who would slowly accumulate a passel of grubby paper tags on the zipper of their down jackets as the winter wore on. They were the currency of an unknown country; tickets to somewhere I had never travelled. Until the winter of 1986
when our youth group leader decided that what this bunch of absolute non-skiiers really needed was a weekend ski trip. For $35 I could go and see what all the fuss was about.
Now that I've been there, I find the writeup for the place we went to sort of humorous.

Tanglewood Ski Area
Preview: Overlooking Lake Wallenpaupack in
the Pocono Mountains, Tanglewood Ski Area has hosted family and novice skiers each for the last 30 years. Locals may remember the resort as Paper Birch Mountain.
The family-operated business turned over in 1972 to a
development corporation by the name Tanglewood. The resort was sold again a handful of years ago, retaining its name.
Tanglewood’s trail system features 100 percent snowmaking and full grooming, and all nine runs are well lit for night skiing, six days per week until 10 P.M. The terrain is much easier and less congested than bigger Pocono areas, and the rates more affordable.

Let me break that down for ya. Its a cheap and easy place to ski. Cheap, easy, and artificial. And its changed hands a bunch of times. Probably because cheap, easy, and artificial doesn't attract a lot of skiiers.

We arrive on a Friday night, get settled, and head out for the slopes Saturday morning. Our first stop is to the rental shop, since none of us have our own skis. A teenage boy clamps us one by one into boots. I feel as though I'm wearing one of my dad's toolboxes on each foot.
Having short legs contributes mightily to my need to walk like Frankenstein. If Frankenstein found himself mired in freshly poured concrete. We receive a brief lesson from one of the ski instructors, and we're on our own. I struggle with the easiest hill (sort of a 'rise', really) and decide, forget this. I'm just going to go get cross country skis and I'll do that instead. Its easier, right?

Now have a problem, because the cross country trails are at the bottom of the main hill. But I'm young, stubborn, and full of the sort of energy I'd kill for now, so I tuck the skis under my arm and WALK down the hill.

When I get to the bottom, I find out that the 100 percent snowmaking really doesn't reach the cross country trails. They are frozen, rutted, and generally not-skiiable. I decide, forget this. I'm just going to go up the ski lift, turn in the skis, and park myself at the lodge and read.
I get in the rather long line for the ski lift and try to organize two cross country skis and two poles in my hands, because by now I'm tired of dragging the skis around and I took them off. This would prove to be a rather bad choice. I should mention, too, that being a non-skiier I had an outfit hobbled together of reasonably water resistant pants in layers, and my mom's quilted stadium length down coat. The line inches toward the lift. A bored attendant stands at the bottom organizing people onto the chairs and I watch as they are whisked away by ones and twos. My turn comes. I step onto the 'launch pad'. When I turn around, things go very wrong very quickly. (I'm not sure what happened first but I'm pretty sure some piece of my apparatus got tangled up in the side of the lift.) As I turn my head to try and rectify that situation, my hood shifts and I can't see. Then a number of things happen, among them: tripping on the pole/ski/ski/pole that is now raking the ground around my feet, falling down, getting hit in the back of the head by the ascending seat I'd failed to sit on, and getting dragged a short distance and unceremonially dumped in a puddle of freezing water, fake snow, and straw.
Falling in public always sucks. Falling in public, followed by the attendant's"Oh, crap,"and shutting down the lift, hearing the murmuring and impatient sighs of the line behind you, and looking up to see the curious faces of those in the seats ahead of you who wonder why they are swinging in midair and not moving is a level of suckitude I didn't know existed. I am picked up out of the puddle by a kid who looks like he's been sent to retrieve a shovelful of circus poop, and escorted to the little ski patrol first aid teepee thing.
I think there is an unwritten rule where, once inside the teepee, you aren't allowed to talk about what got you there. There is no recrimination, no mockery; just a nice lady who bandages up my scraped palms (artificial snow is like bodysurfing a giant snow cone) and hangs my sopping coat on a radiator to dry. I quietly entertain images of climbing on the back of a snowmobile with some ski patrol guy to be conveyed safely to the top. And then she says it. The Thing I Do Not Want to Hear.

" You can stay here and get warm as long as you like, and then when you're ready you can give it another try."

"I'm sorry? Give what another try? "

"The lift."

"Do I have to go that way?"

"Well, you can't WALK up. " (I don't mention that I'd WALKED down.)

Before I am able to plan and execute my escape and subsequent uphill Walk of Shame, a Ski Patrol guy appears. A drop dead gorgeous, sun-reflecting-on-snow-tanned Ski Patrol guy with kind Jesus-y eyes. He starts to explain that he'll ride with me, as I silently, fervently wish for about the thousandth time in my teenage life that my humiliation is powerful enough to rend space and time and give me a dark permanent fissure to hide in. I put my slightly less saturated mom-coat back on and we make our way to the line while He talks me through the steps like we're going to night jump over the Ardennes. We make the seat and swing into the air. Success! I get to enjoy it for about 9 seconds. Then he starts talking about what we have to do at the top. In my naive fantasy of safe passage I didn't realize that the lift doesn't STOP AND LET YOU OFF. You have to jump off at the right time. This thrills me, considering my success in jumping ON at the right time. Ski Patrol Jesus helpfully reminds me that there is one little high spot I need to hit, or else I'll hurt myself jumping from too high or end up riding the lift back down. I quietly hyperventilate while he makes small talk. The drop zone approaches. The bar goes up, and I dive on it like a bride-to-be at Filene's basement, rolling across the 100% manufactured snowgravel, scattering poles and skis as I slide to a stop. It is messy, but I nail it. I clomp into the rental shop, dump everything on the counter, and stuff my damp feet back into my wonderful, wonderful boots.
Subsequent trips are spent by the fire, watching everyone's stuff, warm, dry, and contentedly un-injured, drinking watery cocoa and admiring the round fireplace and shag carpeting.

Like what you see? There's more of the madness at! And before you comment and tell me, I don't know what the deal is with the inverted triangle of small lines and I can't get rid of it so just enjoy its trippy presence and don't worry about it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Leaving Well Enough Alone, Again

Since I have slightly more readership than I used to, I thought I'd bring an old post forward that I was particularly amused by. I realize this is the worst sort of lazy bloggery but, well, its a good post. So I'm gonna.

So I read fashion/beauty magazines. Sue me. I’m neither fashionable nor beautiful but I have this thing about makeup. Tips. Tricks. Pictures of all the colors smooshed together. Whatever. Like I’m going to spend $22 on Christian Dior lipstick. Not the point. Anyone who kills some time and a few brain cells on these magazines knows there’s much talk of waxing and grooming oneself to a fare thee well, and that the coup de grace of fuzz removal is the Brazilian wax. For those who don’t know, it’s a little more than a bikini wax. Let’s just say it’s the difference between mowing your lawn and napalming the block.
Now, I never had any intention of trying such a thing, never mind that it costs $65 minimum and requires an appointment; it involves a degree of intimacy that I usually reserve for a yearly visit to someone with lots of education, letters after her name, and a completely different reason. Ah, but the siren song of advertising made me reconsider. Why fuss with all that when they make magical creams that do the same job in the same neighborhood in the comfort of your own home? I look at the attendant photos of dreamy and arguably non-hirsute women in some Mediterranean setting. Sally Hansen, you’re a genius. And I have no fears; this stuff has been around for years. I hear it even smells nice now. I popped in to my local drugstore and picked some up. You’d think I could resist such a pitch. You’d think that. But you’d be wrong.
By nature I’m a careful reader of directions. I’m not one of those people who tears into a project like a rabid raccoon and squints impatiently at the instructions only after failure to achieve the ‘desired result’. I read them. But if I was honest I’d have to call myself more of a ‘skimmer’. I’ve applied lots of chemicals to this body that bore the warning about ‘testing in a small area’ and waiting 24 hours, and I’ve never done it, and I’ve never had a problem. Some instructions are dogma.I assembled my tools: the cream, a timer ( in case four minutes went by pretty quickly), and something to read (in case it didn’t), and put it on. I settled in with Rebecca Wells’ Ya-Ya’s In Bloom , just the sort of ‘sisters doin’ it for themselves’ book you should read during an advanced depilation session. Everything seemed to be going well until approximately 3 minutes and 26 seconds into the four minute process. That’s when The Unpleasantness started. Perhaps that is understating what was happening; I fully expected the bathroom to fill with the sort of hazy smoke that immediately follows the setting of a match to tinder. All attempts to neutralize the caustic reaction seemed to make it worse. And suddenly, uh huh you betcha, it was much, much worse. A tap dance in a very cold shower seemed to remove most of the chemical but none of the Pain, which was also unresponsive to any number of medications or, ultimately, a large icepack wrapped in a pillowcase. I’d say, ah, the things we do for beauty. I’d say that, if the stuff really worked. After a result so powerful you could use this cream as some sort of attacker deterrent (provided, of course, your attacker could be held at bay by some other means approximately 3 minutes and 26 seconds) it didn’t actually remove anything it was supposed to remove.
Everyone has that photo of themselves as a kid with bangs that start at the corner of one eye and end somewhere four inches above the opposite eyebrow, the result of an experiment with safety scissors and taking control of one’s own style destiny. You’d think once would be enough to learn the lesson, the important life lesson about leaving well enough alone. You’d think that. But you’d be wrong.


Wednesday night. Second duty section of the week.
I'd hoped to get to the ambulance building, execute my little side job cleaning it, and whip out some tripsheets before any tones dropped. That is, after I had a leisurely supper that I'd pick up on the way in.
What is the saying, man schemes, and God laughs?
As I was making my final approach to town from work at about 17:25, tones. Patient to be transported directly from a Dr.'s office to a hospital 65 miles away. I step on it and get my phone out to call our crew chief, to tell him to wait, that I'm 5 minutes out.
He answers. "Hey! Howya doing!"
I say, "I'm almost there, so wait for me."
He says, "I'm in (town an hour away), and I'm just leaving. And (our other crew member) is just leaving work in (town an hour in the other direction)."
I say. "Okay then, I'll just go and see who comes."
Well, five different departments get paged out. No one is available. I should mention that the roads are borderline crap, its cold, and its snowing. We were supposed to have flurries all day. Its been flurrying with a lot of determination for hours. Finally one of the paramedics from the hospital pops in and offers to drive. We grab the second-line ambulance (the first line ambulance is OOS because of some problem with the air-system-dealie-thing ) and go.
The patient is alright, he isn't super excited about the transfer and he is so reluctant to admit he feels like crap that it takes about 30 minutes of good cop/gooder cop interrogation to get him to say he hasn't been 'quite right' for about a month. (He has some not-good things going on with his heart, he shouldn't feel good.) But he's stable. Away we go, bouncing into the night.
This ambulance isn't exactly a smooth ride. Heck, any ambulance makes you question the structural integrity of your bras, but this one seems especially swingy.
I'm chatting with the patient, and two things happen at the same time. Neither of them are good.
One, the patient starts doing this funny thing with his lips. That funny thing means "Gee, I feel an awful lot like I might throw up. I wonder if I should say something." Or in this man's case, "I feel like I'm going to throw up but damn if I'm going to admit it." I ask him, are you all right? We elevate his head. He is offered the good drugs to make it stop. He refuses them. We scramble for the Magic Barf Cones. We can't find any. I put a towel across his chest and offer him the only thing I could find; a scroungy looking red plastic bag. He looks at it, and looks at me. I smile, apologize, and wait for the wave.
Two, the ambulance starts to smell. Its subtle at first, like maybe we drove by someone's trash burning. Then it gets a little worse. Then it smells like the stretcher is parked on top of a smoldering tire fire. I mouth to the paramedic "What's burning?" He does a quick check, and shrugs, but I can see 'slightly worried' battling 'professional and calm' for real estate on his face. We check on the patient. He's still doing the lip wiggle but still doesn't want drugs. We find a Magic Barf Cone and swap him the red plastic bag.
About 20 minutes from our destination, there is a terrific bang, the ambulance lays down a blanket of smoke about 18 feet wide, and it feels like we're driving over half a cord of firewood.
We stop, the driver and paramedic grab flashlights, and look underneath. All tires are intact, and we haven't hit a rock, a deer, or a toolshed. There is talk of us 'losing our rear end'. Not being a gearhead I have no idea what that means. The patient gives me a slightly exasperated half-smile that clearly conveys the degree to which he believes we are idiots. We ask him if he feels better and he says he's "A damn sight better now that we ain't movin' no more." The Magic Barf Cone stands down.
The paramedic calmly conveys to county that we are dead in the water and another ambulance is called (and comes almost immedately, bless them) to take the patient to his destination. We limp the ambulance, which now creaks and sways like a wagon pulled by a drunken horse, to a well-lit parking lot to await a tow. Our chief comes to collect us and I finally get the dinner I never had and a much-coveted chance to pee. And bonus; no more calls for the rest of the night.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Holy Cow

Around here, we take matters of property line very seriously.

ELKLAND – Robert Wayne Virtue Jr., 57, Tioga, was charged with cruelty to
animals and criminal mischief in Elkland District Court for allegedly
shooting a cow on Oct. 6 after it wandered onto his property. The cow

You would think that a phone call of the 'hey, your cows are over here' variety would be enough. But sometimes, the only way to deal with girls like Bessie is to pop a cap in her.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Au Revoir, Les Enfants

My experience is limited. I was licensed in the Spring so its been not quite a year, I'm still having 'first experiences'. Saturday was my first psychiatric emergency. A few months ago I had my first infant arrest. Someday there'll be so many different things that I'll have to give the experiences different names, but for now, that infant arrest is referred to in my house as 'that baby'.
'That baby' presented with severe difficulty breathing. His mother, suspecting something was wrong, didn't put him in his crib that night. She was sitting in a chair holding him, and put her head back, but when she heard him make a little squeaking sound, she looked down to see frightened, staring eyes and purple skin. She did rescue breathing. He settled into a startling purple-yellow and she got going calling EMS.
He was only a few days old, and premature. When she got onto the ambulance with him he looked like a doll the color of an old bruise. They fought for hours to stabilize him, flew him to another hospital, where it was discovered that he was septic. He ended up elsewhere and a liver transplant was considered, but ultimately his little body wore out and he died.
I wanted to write about that baby before. Lots of things came to mind but most of it sounded hollow. Its a hard old world sometimes and not everyone gets a happy ending. There is hope, for sure, but sometimes invoking hope in the face of wordless grief cheapens both.
I'm thinking about him today because the other day I saw his mother. The last time I saw her, she was exhausted. She hugged me before she left the ER and I was hit with a wave of heat from the raging fever that would hospitalize her as well, later that day.
This time, I saw her smile. She didn't recognize me, and I was glad. I was hoping she was having one nice day and a break from the memory. He's just 'that baby' to me and there is an empty place in my heart that I am okay to carry. I hope that what she carries is a burden she can shoulder though I do not pretend to understand how.

"Business! Mankind was my Business!"

Well, Wellsboro has survived another 'Dickens of a Christmas'.

For the uninitiated, 'Dickens of a Christmas', or simply 'Dickens' to the veterans, or 'F-ing Dickens' to the annoyed, is a yearly Christmas festival in Wellsboro. Crafters and local organizations line the streets selling handcrafted wares and food. Yes, line the streets. Outside.

The Irish claim that kilts were a joke the Scots never copped on to. I maintain that an outdoor craft festival that is six blocks long (both sides of the street) in DECEMBER in the NORTHERN TIER is a joke that the flatlanders/people from New York and New Jersey haven't got yet. They think its great. Ooo, look! Everyone is all dressed up in Victorian attire! Oooo, look! Town looks so pretty! Oooo, that's what stage one hypothermia looks like! Bless their hearts. Those of us who know better were in the Gaslight drinking something called a 'Gaslight coffee'. What was in it? Don't know, don't care, had two, felt better. We started out at a brisk 21 degrees at 6am and by 3:30pm we were looking at a balmy 24 so I needed some fortification.

The less-fun part of it all is that our town quadruples in population for about three days. This is all good for the economy and such, but there are a few things I wish we could let our guests know for everyone's peace and tranquility.

1. 'No turn on red' is not optional. This is because a herd of visitors is standing on the corner, in the crosswalk, and in the street trying to take a picture of the Wellsboro Diner. Don't hit them.

2. We don't have a Starbucks. We won't have a Starbucks. They have the coffee down to Bi-Lo in Aisle 3. Bring your coffee machine next time. You'll have to get a Venti Caramel Mac on your way through Williamsport. Get over it.

3. See that big brick building with all the red trucks in it? When the red trucks are pulling out with their lights and sirens on, it would probably be a good idea to stop. Cause, see, they are going to put out a fire or winch someone (perhaps someone very much like yourself) out of a ditch or sommat.

4. While we're on the subject of the brick building....see the parking lot in front of it? DON'T PARK THERE. EVER. FOR ANY REASON. Those signs at the head of EVERY SPACE say 'No parking...Firefighters Only'. When we put in the 'Parking for the lady from Owego who just had to have a bench painted like a snowman' Only lot, we'll let you know. Until then, we will park you in on purpose and watch your hissyfit from across the street, and our amusement shall be great.

So my big skirt and fancy hair doodads are put away for another year...I think I need to rework my costume to include more fur and bonnets. Like these folks.