Thursday, August 31, 2017

Paddling Through the Apocalypse


Is  this country now just a fully corrupt, mindless, scamming, shit hole of deception and money-grubbing? I swear, Rachel Maddow is like a delightful harbinger of all that is backwards, unfair, dirty and sociopathic about this country. It's all being revealed, every day.

In response to the 50 inches of rain in Houston, I heard some fuckwit say into the microphone, "This isn't the time to talk about climate change, this is the time for action, you can talk about climate change some other time, we need to focus on the people of Houston ." Blah blah blah, which would all be well and good if those same people gave two meaningful shits about the other people. Again and again it's individuals who do the rescuing, the rebuilding, the sandwich making, one saved pet on each shoulder, in their personal canoe. "That's right", I can hear them say, "individuals, not government". To which I say, "Yeah, not your shitty, selfish government."

While denied meaningful flood insurance, we continue to build and live in the low-lying  cities and coastal areas because the views are good. Meanwhile legions are licking their chops waiting for the flood waters to recede and the construction contracts to be handed out so they can build, right where they sank, a lifestyle mall, luxury condos, or an Amazon packing center. Our truck full of thoughts and prayers just showed up, you can start unloading anytime.

Oh, and by the way, because we're Texas, and have basically seceded, we have no government regulation. Because the free market will take care of those lying, cheating shitbirds who build their chemical plant right between three schools, an old folks home and some neighborhoods. Sure, free market, because you and I are trading in organic peroxides.  If you don't like this thing, that they hide from you without regulation, then just don't use the pvc piping, paints, or even white flour products,  all of which use this thing you never knew about. I'm so sick of the free-market argument. Like any of us mortals knew what was heating up down there. Apparently the chemical stew is piping hot and ready to be served.  It's going to blow, and by all predictions, sky high. "Like a daisy-cutter bomb." Or, if we're super lucky, a giant toxic plume of lung wilting chemical smoke, singeing the cilia from your air pipes, just as you break the surface, gasping for breath above the flood waters that ate your house. They've mandatory-evacuated a two mile radius around the plant. When asked if the CEO would provide an updated report, one formerly mandated by an "Anti-business" Obama, but since eliminated by opposing powers, detailing the contents of the plant, what toxins, what explosive elements, how much, where, he responds with a straight face, "I don't see that as necessary, we've already stated the risk."  To paraphrase, "We don't want to, and we don't have to, naner, naner boo-boo."  Enjoy your bomb crater filled with water. Oh wait, we made a community pool! Someone get Fox news on this.

This is not the time to talk about climate change. It's the time to talk about Melania's footwear. Sure, I'll grant you the momentary gack. But people, get serious. Are we so easily distracted by the shiny object(ification)?  Melania is not our problem. We can wonder about her, like an exotic bird, pelican-stepping across the lawn, but we cannot waste another moment of our precious time on her.

I might be enraged, but I am also utterly useless. Sure, wrap your yoga arms around me and tell me what a beautiful person I am, inside and out. Paste some sticker on my virtual wall about the power of wine to erase all that ails me. I am, after all, a woman, just get me drunk and date rape me, it's my fault somehow anyway.

I don't know where to put myself in this swirling maelstrom. To dip a toe in feels like risking my leg will be ripped off at the hip. There is nowhere to comfortably gaze, except perhaps at my own navel. Which, more and more I do. We all do. We try to manage as best we can, the tiny controllable things. We sort our cans from paper, or not, and try to keep the shoes lined up in the cubby holes, or not. We attempt to make a few people directly touched by us, feel OK for a few minutes, with kindness, or a good snack while we stomp with giant carbon feet across the backs of millions we don't care to see.

We name call, and shout into the yelling boxes of our phones because reasonable argument is no longer valued. That kind of smarty-pants talking is for east coast educated types (otherwise known as the founding fathers).  We only argue with the people who share our identical values, one-upping each other with our righteousness and indignation. Meanwhile, the militia is forming, just like it always does in chaotic and opportunist times. While we're all gawking and tsk-ing Melania's Jimmy Choos, the weapons are being hoarded, the chants recited in unison.

Comedians are now tasked with giving us our 'real' news. Unless its dosage is dispensed from the blister pack of humor, it's contents is a pill too large and sticky to swallow. Take only as directed, this news may cause headaches, tremors, vaginal dryness or esophageal cancer. We look to the funny people to sooth us through our terror. To remind us of what effervescence might be left in this mostly flat, bad tasting, beverage of culture. I, for one, could not live without them. But I never could, even in the best of times. I rely on their voices, Seth's, Samantha's, Louis' to remind me what's important, to provide a little buoy out there in the raging waters with a beacon on top that flashes, "Over here! Paddle your canoe over here'!", you will find others like you, wet, sad and angry, clinging to their pets, but willing to share their sandwich.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


That little voice. We all have it. A primal vestige from the days when we might have taken higher ground to avoid a Mastodon stampede just from seeing the small clues - how the grass vibrated across a long plain. Age and experience come in handy in these moments; how you react to the little voice, the bending of the grass, is often a result of how much of either, or both, you have on hand in a given moment.  Age says, "Listen." And experience says, "I'm gettin' the fuck out of here!"

Avoiding danger is something I seek actively to do. I've never craved the thrill of the drop, nor speed with a cross-wind. I watch those You Tube long-board videos, of a dude with a tiny helmet on, tucked at the waist, rocketing down a mountain road and I can only think of the impact. There is no part of me that thinks it must be like flying. I can only think of his young body turning in an instant into a wobbly flesh sack filled with tiny bone marbles, as it impinges on the pavement.

Being such a person, who enjoys personal safety, I've developed a very reliable survival sense. I tend to heed my little voice. But this was not the case on the day of the neighborhood block party.

My friends live on a cul de sac in Chagrin Falls. Every house on the street has a family living in it, most with two or more kids, often three. Three children seems to be the thing.  One more than is practical or useful.  It's a delightful street filled with happy kids and their charming parents; I enjoy their block party.  There are always many kinds of craft beer, grilled meats, and a bounce house. Kids of every age fly around dragging dogs, and each other, from yard to yard as the parents shuck and jive to their own beats. I only know the one family really well, the rest are just nice neighbors I've met a few times.

Reaching into one of the many coolers I pull out my first ever I.P.A. I flip the top off with the bottle opener provided on the picnic table. It was as I put the first sip to my lips that I discovered just how truly revolting an I.P.A can be, and also that I had not only removed the cap, but cleanly the top third of the bottle. I had just drank from it's razor-sharp edge.

Recognizing the potential to sever my own tongue, I threw away the broken beer in its defective bottle, and exchanged some releived "Phew!"s with the friends standing around me. Someone handed me a fresh brew, of the drinking kind, and we went on with our day.

Later, the party is really in full throttle, everyone's talking and eating, drinking and playing games, I focus in on a group of kids, median age 7 years, heading down the cul de sac with their scooters. They look a little rogue to me, but I'm far off, under a tree by myself, eating a plate of beans and an ear of corn. They are heading for an incline on the street, blocked off for the party, that is short, but very steep. There are littler kids in tow. I crane my head around hoping to see a parent jogging along behind. After all, there are adults everywhere. Bear in mind, these are not my kids, and this is not my neighborhood. I don't know who belongs to who, which are siblings, who are friends, which husband goes with what wife.

My attention turns to the bounce house, which has been set up on the pavement in the turn-around. There are a dozen pairs of mostly Crocs, lined up outside the inflatable house and the whole thing is quivering like a bowl of jello with kids popping around inside it like so much human Jiffy Pop. A rotation of parents man the flap entrance, grabbing kids as they bounce toward the opening and shoving kids in from the outside, preventing collision the best they can. My eyes cast over the scene and I notice that there are no sandbags on the straps, to hold the undulating contraption onto the surface of the earth. Normally, I think, this thing would be staked into the grass somewhere, but here, I think, there should be sandbags. I sort of say this out loud, but to no one in particular. The thought and my voice are immediately drowned out by the sound of a high pitched wail coming from the scooter hill. All heads turn and here comes a grown up with a child in their arms, whose leg is oozing road rash from the nasty spill he's just had on heartbreak hill. A collective cringe goes through the party attendees. That mom gets to spend the rest of her afternoon deep in peroxide and gauze. Jesus, I think, I should have said something, I had a bad feeling about that. Shit. Darn it.

Just then I see one more kid enter the bounce house and the combination of his balance tipping weight and a light updraft, and the entire bounce house starts to roll end over end. I'm up and running toward the now launching space craft. Kids are screaming inside. I, and another parent grab and heave the space station back on it's correct axis. We reach into the flabby airbag to pluck the disoriented kids out from inside. No one is hurt. But there are a lot of tears, and some shrieks of joy, for just as I am this person, there are also those people who love the dangers. I pull a couple of those tiny, smiling lunatics out, too.  Jesus, I think, I should have said something. I had a bad feeling about that. Shit. Darn it.

I start to say my good-bye's, round up my hoodie and thank the hosts. There's a certain amount of chaos still. The party is big enough that not everyone even noticed the events at the bounce house. There are lawn games being played and music and voices.  As I am collecting my purse, frankly now a little rattled, heading for my car, I see a wife hustling her husband up the driveway, his hand wrapped in a white towel rapidly turning red. He's holding his hand up at the elbow and rushing for the house. I hear someone say, "The bottle opener took the top of his beer off, and it cut his hand!" It wasn't a defective beer bottle, it was a defective opener! and I had thrown it back onto the picnic table without even a moment of consideration. It simply had not crossed my mind that I was setting down a bottle render for someone else to use to cleave their terrible I.P.A asunder with, and with it, their own soft tissue.

It then occurs to me that all this is happening not in front of me, but BECAUSE of me. I become paranoid and convinced that it is my presence that is causing all this anarchy to happen.  Because of my inability to react quickly enough, the veil that separates a serene block party from utter carnage is being lifted.  Age is saying, "Listen", and experience is saying, "Get the fuck out of here. " And so I head for relative safety of my car, lucky, I think, to have missed the Mastodons.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

High Life

Oh, Facebook! With your rich depictions of family togetherness - perched united,  arms latched, white teeth newly emancipated from exceptional orthodonture.  From the balconies and sand beaches of eternity your familial love reaches me. I can just tell you're eating organic produce. Such is your anti-inflammatory radiance. You play instruments and speak foreign languages. I'm sure you have exceptional math skills. You jet ski and picnic and see concerts together on lawns, white wine shared with friends.

"We have to create more memories with our children!"' I holler toward the bathroom where Vild is powdering his nose. Downstairs Louis plays hour seven on the Advanced Gun Violence, 2015 edition, that we bought him for Christmas.

We decide to go camping. We have a tiny vintage trailer that is quite adorable, though a work in progress. It has served us well as a wee bunk house/club house for us grown-ups. It even worked as a sleepover house for our kids until we realized the internet reached out there unsupervised.  Of ancillary benefit,  the camper has partially scratched the paranoid-isolationist itch in Vild. He can stuff that thing full of bug-out bags and I don't have to endure a back-hoe digging up my yard to bury an empty 5000 gallon water tank for us to live in. Everybody wins.

But, we've never tried to sleep four giants in it at one time. The closest we've gotten was when Vild, Louis and  I parked on the rear half-acre of our backyard. In other words, we could still shit inside our own house.  That, and the 5'11" teenager wasn't there to mock and belittle us, while consuming additional oxygen in the small space.

I have a subscription to Tin Can Tourist, a magazine devoted to vintage trailers. I have a Pinterest board to hoard all things small house and camper. I have another board committed to delicious camping meals. The whole thing appeals to my need to have control over a small bit of something. I can't manage our actual house or the people in it, but 75 square feet I can handle. At least theoretically.

I hit the internet with all the vigor that my two bars of connection can give me. I pick out campsites from the hundreds of state parks, drilling down into the zillions of campsites at each park. I look at single images for the right hint at shade and privacy. I look for parks that have a feature to delight my whole family. I find ones with deep, clear swimming holes, fed by waterfalls where you can jump from any number of smooth rock ledges at differing heights to accommodate every level of daring-doo, beginner to drunken frat boy. I pick places with amazing hikes that culminate in crazy views. All the better to pose moss-toothed with my family.

We leave on a Friday, later than we had planned because of Vild's work, it can't be helped, so we don't arrive at the campsite until 9:30 PM, in the pitch dark, with our adorably small but now, in this setting, monstrous rig. Everyone at the neighboring campsites are already peacefully toasting marshmallows and sipping their last hot beverage as I attempt to back the trailer in, threading it's jackknife between a fixed fire ring and a tree. It's the very tree I selected from the site photos as desirable to camp beneath. My kids are tired and hungry from what turned into a nine hour drive. They've burned through the last of the empty carbs they consumed in the late afternoon. Vild is trying to tell me how to back it up, nevermind I'm the only person in the relationship that has ever actually backed the thing up, successfully or otherwise. Of the two people in the relationship only one has been through bus driver training. That person is not the one giving helpful advise through my window.

Backing up a trailer in the dark uses parts of my brain that may be just the tiniest bit flabby from early marijuana use. It still works, but I have to really focus, think things through - if I turn the wheel this way, it goes that way. Less is more. Mirrors and neck-craning - the quiet campsite is now having dinner and a show.

Parked, I have to get dinner on and fast. Luckily, because I had prepared perfectly, and for weeks in advance, I have kababs marinating in the cooler. I have salad. I have corn. I have a somewhat lame folding table. I have a quick-starting fire stick. I have a lighter. I have frosty beers and lemonade. I cook on the unfamiliar fire ring while Vild prepares the camper, which he feels I've overpacked.

I need to mention here that Vild did a genius job of attaching a solar panel to the roof of the camper so we could have a few off-grid lights and a fan, regardless of the amenities of the site. This is his quasi-bunker, don't forget and he's hoping we'll all have to poop in the middle of the night, forcing us to use the five-gallon cat litter box he's provided, this so he can be vindicated for a number of other worse ideas. I've made no promises.

That's when the light rain begins to fall. Right as we are tucking into our well-planned meal, the table starts sinking into the soft earth beneath and it's a bit like eating on the deck of the Titanic.

The drizzle turns to showers, which turn overnight into a spate. But we are tucked safely into our wee camper. The teenager has opted out and is sleeping stretched out in the van. The rain continues all night and lessons only slightly by morning, and not in time to prevent the closing of the swimming hole due to inclement weather and high waters. We all walk over to the natural attraction to grimly confirm that  it is everything it was promised to be. Smooth, rocky, crystalline and perfect. But now also closed to the public. Access areas are roped off with signs warning of its dangers. We dip cautious f-you ankles into the cold water, grey skies overhead. Dark clouds mounting.

I get back to the campsite and we, meaning I, gather the dishes and pots from the morning meal of eggs, hash browns, bacon, good coffee served with real cream, orange juice for the kids. I head to the bath house to do dishes. I realize as I'm standing at the utility sink that I'm doing the exact same thing I do at home, except at a less accommodating sink. I'm picking cooked egg out of the tiny drain hole as a consideration for the next mom, who will be doing her family's dishes in the shit house.

We repack everything, now wet, into the giant rubbermaid boxes and load it back into the rig. There will be no hiking in what is now a steady, pounding rain. We head for our next campsite, farther south, and hope that an early arrival and a new locale will provide better weather and the opportunity to be the people watching the late-comers arrive, smug in our one night of experience.

Onto campsite number two, three hours away. Another beautiful spot with the promise of gorges and radical views. But now it's pouring. Not cute, cinematic rain, but drenching, epic, origin-story waters. The beautiful, handmade awning I made for the camper, polka dotted, with scalloped edges, was now providing the only ten square feet of dryish space outside the camper. But it's quaint 12 oz. duck cloth is no match for the monsoon and soon enough is filled and swelled and so weighted down with water that it looks like an old man's scrotum, pendulous, with a gout of water at it's sagging center.

We were doomed to stay inside the trailer. I made hot chocolate on the propane stovetop. The fan ran and the gas burners served to keep the inside relatively dry and comfortable. We decided to take naps with books. Make the best of it. Let it pass.

I haul my overweight carcass onto the shelf which is the top bunk. The kids are below. Vild opts for the teenager's post in the van. It's then, with my face inches from the aluminum roof, closed like a coffin lid, that I realize that Vild's solar panel, though thoughtful, has severely compromised the thin aluminum skin of the '67 Fleetwing. The roof seams, deeply saturated by the twenty-seven hours of constant rain are beginning to maw under the weight of the giant solar panel. Water drips in a steady flow directly onto my face and neck which is only inches from the roof.

I shimmy my cold meat over the ledge and swing down, careful not to kick my daughter's teeth out in the enclosed space. I dash to the van, unlinked, a few feet away. I inform Vild that we are taking on water. After a quick internal inspection he confirms that my bedding is indeed wet and sponging toward soaked. He plans to go topside to investigate the source. That's when the rain really kicked it into deluge territory.  I can't find the ponchos that I bought and know I packed in the trailer. It's too late for them anyway. We pull the swamped awning down.  I offer Vild my cupped hands, he stirrups his muddy boot into them and swings himself up on the roof. The rain is hammering the roof and splashing up into his face. I can't hear him well over the din of the downpour.

"What?!" I yell up to him.
"The hammer. Get the hammer!" I get the hammer out of the bottom drawer. He proceeds to rip the solar panel from the struts mounted to the roof. Then the struts come flying from his direction. He's cussing up his own weather front. I'm so wet my cleavage is actually behaving like a gutter system, channelling the water from the top of my head directly into the top of my pants. I decide to think of it as land-swimming. In my brilliant packing I remembered athletes foot cream, but not a tarp.

Always take a tarp camping. Always. Always take a tarp camping. Whether used for shade or dry seating, a raincoat, dry bag, or in this case, roofing - always take a tarp camping. We had no tarp. I have maybe four of them in my garage of varying sizes. None in the caravan. After all, I figured, we had a camper, with an awning. Why would we need a tarp?

We do a quick, angry inventory, Vild and I competing to see who can be more pissed and inconvenienced by this series of events. What we have available to us instead of duct tape and a tarp, is a can of Fix-a-flat, and two red, dollar-store plastic tablecloths, each about 1 mil. in thickness. Plastic tissue paper, in essence. Meant only to cover over the bird shit at the public picnic table, not intended to become a water barrier in a survival situation.

I toss up the Fix-a-flat and Vild starts hosing down the seams with the cloudy foam that immediately turns to liquid, a toxic milk that rains down on me along with sheets of water that continue to pour off the roof. Vild spreads the tablecloths over the roof, on top of the noxious water-soluble tire mending agent which has no effect other than to turn the interior of the camper into a four man mobile huffing chamber. He is yelling at me to hand him things that he needs, none of which we have, so I am handing him a ridiculous number of poor substitutes in the form of spatulas and clothesline.

At the zenith, I scream up at him, "WELL, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?!!"

Meanwhile the kids are on the lower bunk, reading. I half expect them to ask us to keep it down.
They are waiting patiently for the whole thing to be over so I can get dinner started.

There was another bath house nearby. Things of beauty, these bath houses. Hot water and hand dryers.

I parked my corpse under the nozzle of that shower and pressed the timer button about eighteen times. Then I went and sat under the motion-sensitive hand dryer, flapping my arms at it to keep the thing blowing the hot air of hope onto my flattened hair.

We never left the campsite. Never hiked. Never swam. I'd brought a light-up frisbee and little badminton racquets. I had envisioned fireflies and talking around warm, blanket-y campfires. I'd planned for waterfall swims and bottles of beer, our skin smelling of sunscreen and bug spray. Instead we drove nine hours from our home to once again be illuminated by iPhone screens. I got to do harder cooking and cleaning with fewer amenities.

On the ride home, my phone rang. It was my friend who was minding the house. The power had been shut off. She was in a panic that she'd done something to cause it. Nope, we'd not paid the bill. It being the Thursday before the fourth of July, the Illuminating Company was happy to take my payment, but could provide no one to turn the power back on until Monday.

We pull up to the house at dark. By now I am an expert at backing the rig up without lights. The house is dry and Vild turns on the solar lights that he's also rigged at home. The cooler is still packed so we refresh the ice from the ice-maker before it melts. We drag our bedding back up to our king-sized bed. We gather outside and cook leftovers on our grill and sit around our backyard fire pit, toasting marshmallows. We have fireflies. Our friend rolls in from out of town, and stays in our perfectly outfitted camper, solo, as God intended. I put up the awning and we all drink beer beneath its delicate shade. We eat great leftovers. We are dry. We are home. We survive the power outage in high style. We are perfectly prepared.

I've got vacation pictures, too, Facebook. They look like this: