Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Overheard on the Bus

Its only May, and my collection of DUI humans grows by the week. I had considered waiting until the end of the summer and doing a wrap up of all of the fun conversations I've had with alcohol-fueled drivers but I can't wait until August or I will forget them all.

First, I'm glad they had a mock DUI at the high school. They should have made parental attendance a condition of graduation. So far this summer every single one of my drunk-wrecked has been between 45-55 years old. Post-boomers: Get your crap together. Seriously.

Exhibit One: Love the One You're With, if in fact you are with her.

Patient: "Did I cause an accident?" (He rammed his car into a tree. There was a large bottle of vodka rolling around on the floor of the car.)

Me: "You had an accident, sir." (I'm holding his head while others are coming in from the other side to get him in a KED.)

Patient: "How is my truck? Did I have an accident?"

Paramedic: "You ARE the accident, partner. Just hang on and we'll get you out."

Later, in the ambulance: "Did I wreck my truck? Is Amanda* okay?"

Paramedic: "We aren't the police, so we don't care, but how much have you had to drink tonight, partner?"

Patient: "6 or 7 shots. Why?"

Paramedic: "Because you were driving a Dodge Neon and Amanda's not with you."


Exhibit Two: In which its more important to look good than to feel good.

The patient failed to negotiate a 'T', rolled through the stop sign, and rolled his truck several times. When we got there, he'd self-extricated and the truck was on its roof.

Patient: "Oh, shit. My truck."

Paramedic: "We aren't the cops, so we don't care....but how much have you had to drink tonight, partner?" (See a theme? We get to say this a lot.)

Patient: mutters something about just a couple of beers, then turns to me earnestly and says
"Oh man, is my face all messed up?"

Me: "No sir, you are just fine, just a little cut on your head."

Patient. "Oh, good." I guess his modeling career is safe. "Man, that ditch, man. It just...." (Just what, jumped up and grabbed you?)

Later on...as we're bringing him out of the ambulance.....

Patient: "Well, that's the rodeo."

Exhibit three: Getting your story straight isn't always enough

We arrive to find a large motorcycle leaning carefully on the embankment with two guys sitting beside it looking for all the world like two kids who got caught stealing in a candy store. Neither of them will look at us directly. Not much debris other than a broken amber turn signal lens, a wristwatch, and a pair of glasses. Both refuse treatment, which seems fine for the one guy but the other one's forehead is busted pretty good and he's trying to nonchalantly swab the blood off with a headwrap. I'm thinking five stitches minimum. We start filling out the refusal paperwork. (Translation: we start killing time until the state police arrive.)

One guy starts to tell us how they were coming up the road and jeez, there was a deer. Just come out of nowhere & ran right into the back of the bike. Ran off that way. And so we called someone to come and get us and while we were waiting, we had a couple beers. Four beers. Apiece.

Now. This scene was about a five minute ride from town. We were enroute probably no more than four minutes after the call went out. So in nine minutes, these gentlemen did the deer tango, got the bike off the road, called a friend, hopped a squat, and had four beers apiece. Because nothing says Miller Time like a close encounter with wildlife. I suppose they were careful to stash the empties back in the saddlebags for recycling because I didn't see eight empty cans anywhere around. Gentlemen: Do not piss on my leg and tell me its raining.

I hand my guy a handful of 2 X 2s for his head. I take a walk in the direction of travel and see a thirty foot long scrape on the blacktop that extends from the apex of the curve and starts just over a rough spot and I get an idea that's where things went tits up for these two and no deer were harmed in the making of this film.

Refusal forms complete, we wait. Oddly, the ride they called does not arrive. But the staties do.
I can honestly say I've never been in the kind of trouble that involves the state police; once a very kind Delaware State Trooper gave me a ride to my office when my car broke down on a busy and dangerous stretch of highway. So I can't say what it is about that slow saunter across the road from the black and white car that changes things for a patient/victim/defendant, but suddenly, the deer story was abandoned in favor of a finger-pointing meltdown over who was actually driving. I had walked away but I overheard one of the troopers saying something like "Okay. So I'm gonna ask you ONE MORE TIME...."

State troopers have the magic touch when it comes to getting impaired folks to get in the ambulance. Its called the "You can come with us" speech. As in: "You have two choices: You can go with them or you can COME WITH US." Its downright miraculous how people have a sudden awareness of pain they had not noticed to that point and elect an ambulance transport. Our busted head guy did us one or two better.

As soon as he was immobilzed he started shaking. It wasn't so much an involuntary tremble as it looked like he was reprising Tom Cruise's role in Cocktail. Then it started:

"Oh man. I'm gonna go back to prison. I don't wanna go back there. Please don't send me back to the Gulf. (the hell?) I don't wanna go back. Three times was enough."

"Sir, we're just taking you to the hospital to get you taken care of."

This refrain is repeated all the way to the hospital. In between he manages to tell us he has PTSD, he broke his back in the exact same place three times, and suddenly his back hurts an awful lot. Despite my very best efforts with a handlight I cannot get his pupils any smaller than dimes. All the way to the hospital we have to assure him many times we are not shipping him back to the Gulf. I get his arm out of his leather coat without complaint so I can get a BP but as soon as the ED nurses touch him he shrieks like they set him on fire.

He ends up being released with a couple of stitches in his head.

Its only May.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Inappropriate Laughter, The Best Medicine

My discussion with Himself (the one I married, not the one pictured) over whether this shirt is funny or slightly blasphemous, coupled with a discussion from a close friend about blog topics, got me thinking about the times when my favorite thing (humor) has intersected with other things (death, church) that it really shouldn't. So in honor of Deb, my friend who knows things about me that keep me in her debt until death takes one of us, here are some stories.

1. The Video Store

If you jump in the 'way back machine and leaf through my posts from 2005 I explain that in 1987, two weeks into my senior year of high school, a man who for all intents and purposes was my stepfather died unexpectedly. This set a cascade of craptacularity in motion that culminated a couple years later in our losing our house. But we hadn't got that far yet.

My friend and I went out to rent a video, as I recall she'd just returned from a trip to Belgium and we'd decided to rent a movie. I remembered that we'd had a membership at the local non-chain video store and I went over to see if it was still in force. He'd been gone a while and I wasn't sure if dues had to be paid or what have you. (This was a long time before Blockbuster and places like that.) I went to the counter and asked if our membership, which my stepdad had set up, was still good.

"Yes, its a lifetime membership."

Suddenly I was faced with a dilemma. Was 'lifetime' sort of a euphemism for 'indefinite' or did it actually end with the life of the person who set it up? I wasn't sure. All I knew was that the irony of what he'd said started off a powerful urge to burst out laughing that hung like the electric stillness of a thunderstorm. I heard my friend head for the door, lurch out under the veranda of the strip mall, and not quite shut the door before her laughter echoed down the concrete hall. In a strangled voice, I explained myself to the video store man, who looked like he'd been slapped. Because he and my stepdad had become friends, sort of. So I'm a huge jerk for telling him like I did. Yaay.

2. Greek Tragedy

We used to live near a town I'll call.....Jacketville. Jacketville had a bit of a reputation as being a grungy little town, but there was a scrappy bunch of theater types who were determined to revive the cultural life of the town, particularly after the steel mill that had sustained it for so many years closed up. So the Jacketville Cultural Society was formed. They had a nifty little storefront property with big windows, a lunch counter, a lounge area where writing workshops and chess games were held, and several small theater spaces where productions and musical events were presented. Most of what they did there was wonderful. They were an eccentric bunch of folks, but very warm and very welcoming.

We were presented with free tickets to see Euripides' Trojan Women. I'd never seen a Greek tragedy and I thought it would be interesting. The tickets were a thank-you gift for a story written by Himself for the local paper, so it wasn't like we could blow it off.

On the way in, I overheard someone say they'd only rehearsed twice, and one rehearsal had been that morning. I waved off the voice in my head that suggested this was a bit of a red flag.

I expected that the pre-production refreshments would be enjoyed in quiet conversation, but someone started playing a drum. Then someone else joined in. And for half an hour, most of the cast danced and, Jeebus on a surfboard I couldn't tell you what they were doing. It just needed to be over and I was already avoiding my husband's direct eye contact because I knew no good could come of it.

The play was presented 'in the round', with the chairs arrayed around the staging area. I've seen plays like this before so I didn't mind that so much. But two things were going to make it sort of uncomfortable:

1. There were exactly nine people in the audience
2. They never lowered the lights.

So here we are, all nine of us, staring at each other across the 'sacred space', wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. It was about to get worse. The drumming picked up again, and so did the dancing. Only now, most of the cast had elected to TAKE OFF MUCH OF THEIR CLOTHING. And for reasons I can't explain, they were dancing with toys and smearing makeup on themselves.

Now, I know that Greek plays are kind of strange; I took Ancient Theater. Masks, deus ex machina, whatever. But I don't think Euripides imagined people dancing around with stuffed animals in their underwear. And I can't say I remember ANYTHING about the play itself. I just know that I spent the better part of an hour doing some sort of yogic breathing to keep from cracking up. The way the room was laid out I couldn't leave. There was no blessed anonymity of the dark, or, for that matter, an audience of more than 10.

The play wound down, and ended with everyone in the cast (about 35 people) wandering into chairs and dancing. I see my husband fumbling a pen out of his shirt pocket and hear the familiar scritch-scritch of him writing something on the program. He does this in church too, when there is something he absolutely HAS to tell me RIGHT NOW. The sharp edge of the program poked me in the ribs. I waved him off because I knew that if I looked his way, or read whatever he wrote, I'd be done. There was a man laying on the riser beside my chair doing some sort of gyration and I can honestly say that it would probably be less embarassing to go with my firefighter buddies to a strip club and get a lap dance than to endure what was going on there. I was hoping we could bolt out a side door and speed away but we had to run a gauntlet of castmembers at the door STILL in their underwear on the way out, who felt the most fitting end of the play was to HUG EVERYONE as they left. And since we were guests of honor we had to tell each and every one of them what we thought. They smiled up at us with the radiant expectation of a bride in a receiving line.
We got in the car and laughed for at least a mile; I think I even peed a little.

There are probably more, I have to think. Its a holiday weekend, so my brain is already clearing off the desk and putting the good pens away. Here's this, though.

I remembered the other story I wanted to tell you.

3. Idahoans

When my mom turned 50, my sister and I decided to take her to Nashville for the weekend. She was hugely into line dancing and we planned to take her to the Wild Horse Saloon for a taping of the show where people dance in matching outfits because she dug that. My sister and I weren’t super into it but since the three of us always have a good time together we didn’t mind much. And my sister and I just figured, it’s a saloon. There are bound to be margaritas.

One of the daytime activities we planned was a bus tour around the city to see some Country stars homes. The driver was really nice and as he picked up passengers at the different hotels, he had us introduce ourselves and say where we were from. The vibe was pretty fun and loose for most of the roundup.

Then the teachers got on. From Idaho.

I have to give you the visual first here. There were three of them; all identically dressed. Hawaiian shirts, cargo shorts, Birkenstocks WITH SOCKS, and a severe bowl haircut with an ear-level weightline and mullety bottom that, coupled with the center part, made each of their heads look distressingly penile from the back.

I realize this is not a charitable description. They earned it by being the most annoying people on the bus.

The driver invited questions. He was full of information about the country stars’ homes, including a funny one (which is true) about Tanya Tucker flashing her ta-ta’s at a bus like ours that had pulled into her driveway. I don’t think he counted on the kind of questions he’d get from The Teachers.

"Wow. What does real estate go for around here?"

"How often do you have to mow your grass here?"

"Is that, like, his real house or just the one for the tour?"

And my personal favorite: We had just driven around TWO SIDES of Alan Jackson’s house. As ridiculously rich peoples’ houses go, it wasn’t all that big, kind of a nice white house with black shutters, a big detatched garage, and a large barn with horses. It had a big picket fence all the way around it. But from the direction we came you could see pretty much the whole property.
A couple of other tidbits you may need to know if you aren’t a country fan. Alan Jackson has a song called ‘Chattahoochee’. Here’s a snippet of the lyrics.

Well way down yonder on a chatahoochie
It gets hotter than a hoochiecoochie
We laid rubber on the Georgian asphalt
We got a little crazy but we never got caught.

Now. A couple of things. One, in this context I have no idea what a hoochiecoochie is and I don’t want to know. Two, the Chatahoochie is a river. Three, from the song, you kinda get the impression its in GEORGIA. I don’t think he’s talking about Georgian asphalt in, say, Tblisi.

So of course, one of the teachers asked:

"Is there a river behind that house?"

The driver had a mirror over him that enabled him to keep an eye on his tourists. I could only see the top third of his face but he looked in the mirror and did something with his eyebrows and I lost it. I was in a seat behind my mother and my sister and I let out this loud, almost involuntary bark of laughter and then ducked. The Teachers all swiveled around and gave my mother and my sister the stinkeye. My sister reached over the seat and started smacking me in a way that presaged her ability to accurately reach her children while driving.

They sat in sullen but merciful silence for the rest of the ride.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Department of Vehicular Awesomeness

I'm too lazy to cross-post. So I will just give you the link to my new post over here, wherein we talk of ambulance-related happiness.

Department of Vehicular Awesomeness

Lemme tell you a story, chilluns.

I grew up in New Jersey. You can get your learner's permit at 16 1/2 there, (at least, you could in 1986...no need to correct me if its changed.....16.5 is waay in my rearview mirror) and you could have your full driver's license, no Cinderella 12am curfew nonsense, at 17.

I took Driver's Ed in 10th grade just like everybody else. I learned to drive in a brand-new dual control Chevette with less than 200 miles on it. It still smelled new when April Fitch pulled into my driveway, picked me up with the instructor on the passenger side, then drove home to her house. My first twelve feet of driving independence was the Fitch driveway on Cherry Lane in Mickleton, New Jersey.

I passed Driver's Ed with flying colors. My teacher said I was one of the best parallel parkers she ever had. I got my little permit. Then, nothing.

Unfortunately, we had some vehicles when I was growing up that were somewhat creatively registered and insured. (Read: not exactly registered OR insured) So testing for my license in our black 1978 Ford LTD II wasn't happening on account of they checked that kind of stuff down there at the DMV. Soon, my summers were full of jobs (which I biked to) and college preparation, then college with a roommate who had a car, so it wasn't a huge priority, until I turned 21 and my best friend pestered me to go ahead and get the license already so we could at least go OUT when we were home from school. I met her halfway by getting an ID from the DMV that attested to my age but not my driving ability, that was fine until a bouncer at a bar implied smirkingly that my license must be suspended for some nefarious reason. Oh, no you didn't.

August, 1991. I got my permit renewed and confidently scheduled a driving test. I was, after all, a champion parallel parker. By now we were doing things differently and had a decent car actually REGISTERED and INSURED in New Jersey. So it was all good.

My driving examiner strode out of the building with a metal clipboard and a sour look on his face. He got in the car, slammed the door a little too hard, and jerked his head toward the cones behind us.


Um, okay. Good morning to you, too. I did all the little things they nail you for missing; I adjusted my mirrors, looked carefully behind me, and backed the car in a graceful arc away from the parking space we were in and positioned myself alongside the cones on the other side of the lot. I pulled forward, put on my signal, checked all my mirrors, and backed up.

I've always had a little trouble with right-left orientation in mirrors and judging distance. So it was maybe not such a good idea that I didn't practice this maneuver for five years and then tried to do it cold with Mr. Misery Boots in the car with me. After an eternity of increasingly desperate adjustments and a glimpse of my mother standing in the grass with her hands over her face, the instructor said, "Stop."

Actually, he didn't say "Stop." He said, "Stop, just...stop. Jesus." He got out of my car, walked around to the front, and reached down. He seemed to be wrestling with something. Something turned out to be an orange cone, which was in my wheel well. He yanked it out and it sat there accusingly askew, a black smudge spiraling up its length. I attempted humor. "So...I guess, you don't want me to do anything else?" He made a face, scribbled on his clipboard, and walked back to the building.

My humiliation hung heavy between us as my mother and I rode back home. I told her I didn't want to go to work. I worked at a moving company; every single person in the building except for the older lady who answered the phone and kept her sweater on her shoulders with a little gold chain had a CDL. THEY could drive giant tractor trailers all the way across the country and park them effortlessly in the alleys and byways of this great land. I couldn't put an Oldsmobile between cones without doing property damage. I was sure they would mock me. My mother simply said, "You have to go."

Surprisingly, they didn't make fun of me. My manager even sprang for Chinese food for everyone for lunch to cheer me up. As I passed his desk, he chucked a fortune cookie at me, and when I opened it, I kid you not, it said:

"Your place in the path of life is in the driver's seat."

Fast forward to May 1992. With a little practice, and a much nicer instructor, I got a perfect score on the test and got my license.

I tell you this story so you can comprehend the coolness of what happened yesterday. So, my history with cones, and backing up, and parking, and what have you, not so good. To date, I have a pretty solid driving history, two tickets, only a couple of accidents (one was weather related and the other one I was forced off the road), but I wouldn't say I've become a master of all I survey. I'll still drive around the block a couple of times for a spot I can pull into rather than doing the old parallel shuffle. I had a couple of white knuckle weeks when my company car turned out to be a minivan, because to that point it was the biggest thing I'd ever driven.

Yesterday, I took a driver's test all over again. In this.

Uh huh. I had to drive down a 200' alley and back up, SERPENTINE this beeyotch around cones BACKWARDS, back into a confined space, drive two offset alleys, and k-turn. TWICE. The entire course was made up of ORANGE CONES. Of which, in the practice run and the actual test run, I hit....


Did I mention I've never driven an ambulance before ever ever ever? Or that I had no practice driving whatsoever before the test? No? Well, I haven't and I didn't. Yes, I know that makes me very lucky and in need of more practice. Still, I feel like I redeemed myself from the cone-raping driving of my youth. And maybe, I'm a little further down that path of life I was promised with my General Tso's.

Proceed to Humor Blogs, making sure you check your mirrors.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Driving and Sighing

To: The Gentleman on Route 17 just outside Corning

From: The Lady in the 1999 Dodge Caravan

I was driving behind you, idly staring at your trailer hitch. When you deaccelerated I decided to pass you. And when I did so, I looked to my right.

Please understand that I was not CHECKING YOU OUT. And since I was not checking you out, there was really no reason whatsoever for you to do that thing with your eyebrows and your tongue. You know, that thing that made Thelma and Louise steal a guy's hat and blow up his truck.

I was simply trying to ascertain just what sort of sac de douche would put those things on the bumper of his truck.

Now I know.

Check out Humor Blogs! Its mostly bumpernut-free!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Riding Season

All EMS professionals must face death. The need for coming to terms with death is universal; death is part of an EMT's everyday duties. These professionals must not only learn how to respond to death, but also how to react to it and integrate it into everyday life. EMS professionals employ several strategies to control the stressful effects of death. The most frequently used defense mechanisms are educational desensitization, humor, language alteration, scientific fragmentation, escape into work, and rationalization.-- Emergency Medical Technicians Forum, Encyclopedia of Death and Dying

Monday wasn't a duty night for me, I was hanging out at the station waiting for a meeting to start. I went to a quick NH call because I happened to be there, thought that was going to be it. Then we heard it.

Alert tones and two beeps.

Two beeps is a car accident, usually. It is also an invitation for our entire department to LOSE OUR FREAKING MINDS.
In twenty seconds every piece of equipment we have was screaming down the road at 80 miles an hour toward what we were told was a motorcycle accident. Helicopter was in the air, we're lurching all over the back of the ambulance pulling equipment out on the stretcher. I guess some of us were excited about the possibility of saving someone's life. I'm still new enough that I was hoping I'd be useful and not in the way. I don't know.

The first thing that I saw was a little cluster of young guys. Guys that looked like they'd been working on cars or something. Guys of the normally "I'm invincible" variety suddenly looked very young, and a little lost. They were standing a little way away from our patient/the body. Amazing how quickly he went from one to the other. We got there in time to help turn him over and watch as the paramedic attached leads to him, in time for the bright green line. We got sheets and covered him. He looked so small.

A lot of time passed, that was spent standing around waiting for the 'stuff that happens when this happens'. Painting lines. Lighting flares. Measuring. Taking pictures. People that have to come and give the official imprimatur to what we already know to be so very finally and permanently true.

I read a lot, see a lot of movies, and probably think about stuff like this more often than is any good for anyone, but standing there with someone who probably got up that morning and looked forward to riding his bike and enjoying the hell out of a beautiful day waiting for the go-ahead to put him in a bag kinda rams it home for you like nothing else does: every day we get through is a miracle and not a single one of them is guaranteed. I don't think I had real faith until I stuck my hands into how it all breaks down. Damage. Loss. Disappointments. Fatal errors in judgement. Things that happen that aren't fair. At the end of the day it comes back to a verse that just sounds better in the old King Jimmy translation: "Whatsoever ye do for the least of these my brethren: you have done it unto Me."

And that's why I'll be back tomorrow.

Freaky Friday, or, how I amuse myself when I drive all the time

I would just like to say that it is my conviction

That longer hair and other flamboyant affectations of appearance
are nothing more

Than the male's emergence from his drab camouflage

Into the gaudy plumage which is the birthright of his sex.

There is a peculiar notion that elegant plumage and fine feathers are not proper for the male

when actually.......

That is the way things are in most species.

I think I drove about 600 miles this week. It felt like it anyway. This morning as I was heading back into New York for the umpty-umpth time I had another one of those moments that makes me love this area. A local guy was being charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Pretty common, yes, but they felt necessary to add that it was specifically that he'd made a bong out of a deer antler.

The radio was starting to get to me; even stuff I like I was hearing too much of. So I did what I always do on a gray drizzly day when the radio annoys me and I'm in danger of drifting off; I sing show tunes. The above was taken from Hair, the only musical I could audition for cold, I could literally sing any song they asked me to. For some reason, I thought it might translate nicely into a post. If you want to hear a pretty good performance of it, here you go.

Most of the reason this week was so long had to do with my other "job", which you can read about here. If you don't feel like clicking over, I'll sum it up for you.
1. Any day could be the last day. Don't waste it.
2. Don't drink and drive.
3. If you think you might get puked on, roll up your sleeves.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Pack Rats

It was one of those days.

Last Friday, I was supposed to see some folks in New York. They wanted a couple of boxes, so I went to get them over in our warehouse and when I climbed out of the van, I unknowingly jettisoned my cellphone in the parking lot and drove off. One of the guys picked it up and carried it back in the office right around the time the customer called to reschedule his appointment because his wife was sick. So I drove an hour and 40 minutes to deliver five boxes to a guy and reschedule the appointment for today. I asked him if I could just come and see everything BUT the room she was in. He said no.

Now I know why.

I went today, it was a lovely day to drive out, and an hour and 45 minutes later I was questioning my career path. Why? I'll let my notes to the corporate agent explain.

All upstairs bedrooms were impassable; two rooms consist of a giant heap of
plastic trash bags full of yarn and various craft materials, sometimes with
furniture and other items underneath. I could not survey one closet in one of
the bedrooms because approximately 2000# of stuff barred the door, but I figured
a number of cartons for that space. The bedroom has a 2 ft aisle that enables
one to get into the bed but the rest of the room has about a 40 cu. ft pile of
plastic bags. There was a whole corner of that room I could not see because I
couldn't climb over the piles. Third bedroom was also impassable. The basement
had five large areas of stuff, there is an office and workshop in the basement
and another workshop in the garage, lots of tools. Attic storage above
garage was guesstimated because it was a pulldown stair and shipper's wife was
not able to climb above the second step. Sun porch is impassable. Two sheds
aren't too bad but they are both full. Garage is full. Some of the bedrooms will
need 10-20 boxes packed just to be able to get inside the room and see the
furniture underneath. Customers hoard recyclable glass. I gently suggested
they recycle it before they go.

I also gently explained to them, wearing my firefighter hat for a minute, that if they have a fire when they are sleeping, they will probably die. Okay, so I didn't say it like that. But I got the message across.

I stopped for some lunch afterward and, of course, because I'm wearing a very nice blouse that hasn't been out of the closet yet this spring, I dribbled duck sauce all over myself and necessitated a trip across the parking lot to Walleyworld for a Tide stain-stick thingy.

Can't Wal-Mart have a bathroom somewhere in the store (I'd even hike to the back) that is just for grownups? I've not yet mastered the toilet-yoga that enables me to do what I have to do without baptizing my nethers with automatically flushing PUBLIC TOILET WATER eight times, and this time I got to listen to the dulcet tones of a four year old boy named Dustin SCREAMING HIS FOOL HEAD OFF because his mother had the audacity to claim that he, in her words, 'messed hisself' and he said NO HE DIDN'T despite the distinct odor and appearance of errant poop on his clothes. The rest of my visit there did little to convince me that 89% of human reproduction is a good idea. I finally found my Tide thingy and beat feet to the car, where I spent ten minutes scrubbing peachy stains off my bosom. It mostly worked.

Apparently the Dodge Caravan is not designed to be driven at 70 MPH with the windows down. Unless you want to spend the better part of the drive lightly coated in dismembered bug particles. I have to do one more survey after hours because its a rush job, but at least its close to home.

I think I'll change my shirt first.

Darn it! My sister in law is screaming up the charts over at Humor Blogs. Are we going to let her get away with it?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Catskills: Where No One Has 'Gone' Before

There is no place to pee in the Catskills.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had to get up and out in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday. This was because my appointment was in Woodstock, NY. (I tried to post a map with a line on it, couldn't figure it out. Take my word for it. Its far.) Leaving promptly at 5am would put me in the Byrdcliffe artist's colony in time for my 10:30 appointment.

After three hours of highway driving I took an exit to a Quickway for a potty stop and some cold beverages and gum. (Hey, you can't breathe coffee all over people.) I exchanged pleasantries with the manager and left, confident that other such places would pop up in the next two and a half hours. I was wrong.

I left the rest-area-and-retail establishment-zone, and for that matter, regularly maintained roads, as soon as I left Route 17. The next thirty or so miles required what I call two-handed driving through state park lands. After a while I got paranoid, not just because there were no manmade structures whatsoever for miles other than the road itself, but because the directions said 'Go Straight' at one point where I passed a clearly marked left turn pointing the way to THREE roads that were mentioned in the directions. Since these same directions earlier gave an exit number that would have dropped me squarely in the sketchy and annoying-to-navigate section of Binghamton I was hesitant to accept them as doctrine. But my gut said go straight, so I did.

I don't know if the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but the good folks at DeLorme clearly ascribe to the notion that there is no real need to stick to 4 lane 55 MPH roads when there are perfectly serviceable and mostly paved switchbacks that go STRAIGHT UP OVER A MOUNTAIN through countryside so positively uninhabited I started to look for Marshall, Will, and Holly on a routine expedition. (Some help for those of you not children of the 70's):

By the time I got out of 'Frost Valley' my long-savored second cup of coffee had settled to my nethers and I really had to go. I assumed that eventually there would be something-- a gas station, a fast food joint, whatever. I passed mile after mile of vet clinics, not-yet-open-for-the-season dairy bars, fishing access sites, and gun clubs. Christmas in Killarney, people. I was desperate.

Finally I reach what appears to be the next 'turn' on my directions-- the town of Phoenicia. I swing into town. Church, church, real estate office, pizza place, Mexican cantina, bank, funeral home, Tibetan meditation center, Valero-with-a-food-place. Ding ding ding! We have a winner. I swing in on two wheels and do that clenchy walk into the store. Stuck to the wall next to the Hallway of Relief, written on one of those neon starbursts used to advertise two for one sales, is a sign that says NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS. You have got to be kidding. I decide to negotiate.

"Hi, look, I just drove 40 miles over a mountain and I really have to pee." (Screw it. Will I see these people again? Nope.)

"Well, we don't have a public rest room, but they do," She points across at the pizza place, with a 'Rest Rooms are for Customers Only' sign clearly visible even across the street. Also, its 9:45 in the morning. Is the only pizza place in Phoenicia open at 9:45 in the morning? No, it is not.

I consider the following: Arguing, violence, darting into their bathroom and barring the door. I do none of these things. I leave and cross the street to the cantina. Mercifully, the door is open and I dart into the ladies room and say a prayer of thanks. When I come out, a man is standing at the door, probably to lock it behind him so no one else trespasses before the place is open. I consult him on my directions and he tells me something I immediately know to be completely wrong, then spend the next 10 minutes going in one direction for a mile, then the other direction, cursing like a sailor because I can't find my next turn which ends up leading to a bridge that is OUT AND CLOSED WITH A FENCE ANYWAY. I get back on track, wondering how close I came to maybe being lost on a mountain because the mapmaking geniuses of Falmouth, Maine don't know the befrigged bridges are out and whatnot.

By the time I get to Woodstock, I'm not half a million strong, but I do have to pee again. I mention the realtor I'm meeting about there being no 'rest areas' in the Catskills and she laughs and says "No, there are not! So make sure you go here at the house before you leave."

The second leg of the trip was a bit shorter, so I took a moment to snap some photos of Woodstocky coolness.

I wish the fence wasn't so high because I'm quite sure that the house itself is every bit as groovy.

I love the days when this is my office.

The next two hours of driving was a bit boring, one long road and a string of strange towns like East Durham, which is apparently some sort of Irish ghetto situated exactly in the middle of nowhere. Every shop, hotel, and garage, heck, even the firehouse, had shamrocks on it, but everything had this sad shabbiness to it, as if I'd missed East Durham's heyday by about 15 years. I hit snow squalls in Seward, hanging curtains that I drove into and out of for miles. I passed a small municipal airport with a banner that proudly proclaimed "Celebrating 50 years of relatively safe flying".

My second appointment was 3 1/2 miles from Cooperstown. No, I didn't go to the H o F. Why? Because I'd rather give myself a tattoo with household items than watch a baseball game.

I was warned that my customer had 'triplets'. Instead of the armful of infants I was expecting, I was led to a den on the other side of a baby-fence and introduced to three children who are one week away from their second birthday. They were cute, curious, and sweet for approximately 42 seconds. The next hour involved a lot of repetition (I couldn't understand what they were saying but it wasn't because they didn't give me 57 tries to do so) and that noise two year olds make that sounds like someone shoving a piece of plate steel through a buzz saw. They were nice people but the silence in the van was deafening (and welcome) when I finally extricated myself and started the long drive home, cracking open an energy drink that tasted like delicately carbonated bathroom spray to keep me between the navigational beacons all the way back to Pennsylvania. As peak-season adventures go, we're only getting started.

Iceberg, Right Ahead

Tuesday night was all planned out.

I had a long day of driving for work Wednesday, so I had to go to bed at 9:00. I came home, made an early dinner, we watched an episode of My So Called Life (I love you, Netflix!!), and I was to take a shower and go to bed. My clothes were laid out, my lunch was made, I had a 'don't forget' list posted by the front door. Not because I'm anal retentive; because I'm basically useless at four o'clock in the morning. Which was when I was getting up.

I was in the shower, washing my hair, thinking sunshiny-organized thoughts. I noticed a vibration and the funny low grumble of the sump pump under my feet.

Some quick and not-too technical explanation; I live on a boggy hill and like everyone in my town, without some sort of elaborate continual drainage, I'd probably come down to the basement to do laundry and find Gollum fishing in the corners. My landlord rigged up a pipe that goes from the sump pump well to the pipe that carries away our flushies and old showers, so when it kicks on it just pumps that water away into the sewer. I don't completely understand how it all works. I stay away from the sump pump and the creepy well that reminds me of The Ring.

Odd, I think to myself. It hasn't been raining. Why is the pump running? And, a few minutes after I shut off the water, Why is the pump still running? I decide that once I am no longer streaming wet and naked, I'll go check it out.

I understood two things very clearly when I got married. One, I married for love. Two, I married a man of books and letters. As such, he is a wonderfully articulate, intelligent, funny and interesting person with whom I have a wonderful time. We share a sense of humor and a love of the written word. In exchange, I understood that this wonderful man is not so much with the tools and the fixing and the How-Things-Work. Its just not his bailiwick.

Me: "Honey, the pump is running."

Himself: "Do you want me to go see what's going on? I have to put on my shoes."

Me: (Exasperated) "Do you just want me to go down?"

I towel off and throw on a nightgown. As I find my sandals, I hear the back door open, and I hear something that sounds like someone has installed a mall fountain in my basement.

And my wonderful husband of books and letters, the man I am glad to spend every day with, shrieks like a little girl.

The pipe from the well was still lashed to the sewer pipe, but it was no longer CONNECTED to it in a 'water goes where its supposed to' kind of way. Instead it was spewing an arc of distressingly rusty brown water directly into the middle of the house.

Himself: "WE HAVE TO CALL WARREN!!!" He runs upstairs and I follow him.

Warren? I think he means our brother in law, who 1) lives over an hour away and 2) once called 911 when a water pipe broke in his basement. I'm failing to see what he would bring to the situation. I finally realize that 'Warren' is a local plumber who was at the house two years ago for some sink issue or other. Meanwhile he has our landlord on the phone, and he is trying to explain the problem. Which is still happening. I snatch the phone from him and go back downstairs.

Now, I'm no master of sewage sciences either, my solution to the problem was to grab the hose that had broken loose from its moorings and jam it back where it came from. I have not considered that there might be a CLOG, or that the clog in question would merrily divert the brown water BACK INTO THE HOUSE. A few seconds later I hear this:


I pull out the hose, which squirts all over my freshly scrubbed arms and bare feet and Birkenstocks. I still have the landlord on the line. He helpfully suggests that I UNPLUG THE SUMP PUMP. Jim, you said you couldn't be much help, being in New Jersey. You were wrong. Because obviously neither of us had the presence of mind to do this. I pull the plug and the cataclysm stops.

Himself: "WHERE IS YOUR PHONE??" (Because I have his phone.)


This whole conversation is shouted through the basement ceiling/kitchen floor. I thank Jim for his help, let him know we'll call to tell him how it went, and ring off. Himself comes down to report that he left a message for Warren the Plumber, while I eyeball the contents of the utility sink. Bits of old toilet paper are swirling gracefully in it.

I suddenly feel very, very dirty. Its 9:30pm. I was supposed to be in bed half an hour ago. I can't run any water. I take my washcloth, do a Lady Macbeth on every appendage that was baptized by the Hose of Death, and rub in an entire travel-size bottle of Purell. And I go to bed.

Twenty minutes later, Warren arrives and goes right to work. God bless him. But it takes quite a while to properly snake a drain. Our house is one floor, and the offending clog and subsequent snaking noise was pretty much 12 feet under my pillow. So I turned the light back on, read some Anne Lamott, and waited for him to finish. Then, replaying our drama, I got the giggles. My dashing man may not know what to do when the water rushes in, but he knows where the lifeboats are. I finally got to sleep around 10:45, and I still got up at four.

But that is another whole story.

Head on down to Humor Blogs, where all the flushing goes where its supposed to! Click for me and arrest the popularity onslaught of my fabulous sister in law!!