Category: Miscellaneous Prose
|November 16, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose, Patagonia|
There is mariachi music playing on the radio. It makes 4 a.m. at the dentist’s office seem much more festive. The only other thing I hear is the incessant scraping in my head and a bitter, aged doctor knuckle-deep in my mouth asking why he ever became a dentist in the first place. I wonder if the scars on his hands are because someone tried to bite them off. Then I wonder why he isn’t wearing gloves.
There are certain corners of the planet where you do not want to be when you have a medical emergency. Smack dab in the middle of Chilean Patagonia is one of these places. If they had vets, they would probably be surgeons on the side, but in the absence of even animal care it is highly more likely that a pisco-soaked Swiss army knife is considered modern medical treatment.
Unfortunately, I had not brought my Swiss army knife (having left it and several others at airport security), and was left at the mercy of the Chilean health care system. Which appears to consist of an aged dentist working out of his garage.
It began some days into my Patagonian adventure when I assumed I had bitten wrong on something. The strange pain in my face increased at a rate relative to the increase in my ibuprofen consumption. By day three, I was just mixing the stuff in milk as my morning muesli. That was the day I ran the Patagonian International Marathon. In freezing winds, over endless hills, dodging giant ankle-breaking stones for hours, what hurt the most was not my tired legs or worn feet, it was my face. It had begun to throb in rhythm to my steady pace toward the mountains.
As my limited drug resources were failing post-race, I appropriately medicated with alcohol until not only my face was numb, but the rest of my body was too. Much to my chagrin, it was not possible for me to stay stumble-drunk the next day. People tend to frown on vodka shots at breakfast. Even in Chile.
Confused, in agony, and at the verge of tears, our team of race organizers and writers drove out of the Torres Del Paine National Park on the sort of bumpy dirt roads that make your kidneys rattle against your ribs. We headed south to Punta Arenas (Population: 130,000 – Qualified Physicians: unknown), arriving at two in the morning. By this time, I had hit up most of the media crew for any drugs they may be transporting only to come to this conclusion: Photographers are squares. Hurting and helpless at the tip of South America, my request for narcotics was left unanswered.
And then it came over me like an undeniable force, resistance futile: The need to cry.
Most people who have ever seen me cry have not survived to tell the story. Now here I was, big sappy tears streaming down my face in public. I could have cared less. Something was wrong – REALLY wrong. The desire to perforate my cheek was increasing, along with my regret for not carrying a pocket knife. I asked to be taken to the nearest hospital and was surprised to find they actually have them in Punta Arenas.
Of course, they wouldn’t take me. They suggested we call a dentist, which led my designated care-giver for the next 24 hours, Ann, to flipping through the yellow pages while I cried like a sissy and held an ice pack to my face. The dentist said it is really very late, or early, and that he needed some time to wake up, but we could come over. We piled into a taxi and drove through the cold Magellan night into the unlit streets at the edge of the city.
Had I been able to string together two conscious thoughts at this point, I would have been alarmed. In fact, I would have been downright scared when told to walk around the house, past the cars parked in the dark driveway, to a funky little garage in the back yard.
The dentist, who had been calling from an upstairs window in Spanish that I did not understand, appeared wearing a thick coat and carrying a backpack. He smelled of sleep and fumbled for keys to open the door. Red flags were left unnoticed as a result of blinding pain.
Lights turned on and instead of seeing a workbench and a rusty wheelbarrow as I half expected, the garage had been redecorated in 1974 Art Dentist interior, complete with wood panelling, pea green, and porcelain signs declaring “Salon de Rayo.” Dr. Guzman (I saw a plaque on the wall, it looked real) proceeded to pull various utensils out of his sterilizing oven that he likely purchased years before he redecorated.
Then he prepared for examination by using clothes lines to pin a cotton, blood-stained bib to my chest, looking around for some latex gloves but then thinking better of himself and opting for the time-trusted bare-hand approach to medical intervention. I was already crying, so getting more upset about the likelihood of a Hepatitis infection would have just been wasted energy.
The good doctor poked around in what felt like a sadist test of seeing how far out of the chair I would leap, then declared some sort of bad tooth thing (malo de dento or something) and said he was going to drill into said culprit, release unseen pressure, and send me on my merry way.
Seduced by the promise of relief, I nodded and nearly sucked that Novocain shot right out of the needle.
After several more shots and two hours of drilling (most of it by hand) accompanied by a plethora of Spanish cursing, Dr. Guzman decided an x-ray might by of use, along with some Mariachi music. We transported to the Salon de Rayo, various metal things sticking out of my tear-covered, nerve-damaged face where he proceeded to fry his testicles by standing RIGHT NEXT to my head with each x-ray. Over the course of the next several hours, he took a total of four x-rays, each time standing inches away. Considering this guy had probably been a dentist before the invention of radiography (I looked it up, 1895, probably about right), he seemed impervious to its carcinogenic effects.
Having just run a marathon and sustained myself on booze and Advil for two days, the Novocain was wearing off every twenty minutes. My cheeks had so many needle holes in them, I was pretty sure I’d have to drink with a straw to avoid leakage. Luckily, most cocktails come with straws.
The hours wore on. The mariachi band echoed in the background. The dentist said he couldn’t get through, and I begged him with promises of my second born, riches, my soul, to do whatever it takes to make the pain go away.
He worked, I heard a strange pop and then a surprised stare from a man I assumed had seen it all.
“Your tooth broke off!” he said, showing me in case I did not believe him.
Now would be a good time to catalogue my greatest fears in life:
- Being mauled by a bear
- My teeth falling out
Hours before, I had arrived with a seemingly FINE set of chompers. In fact, I had been at the real dentist just weeks before and knew for a fact that my pearly whites were in good order. So whatever was hurting, it was not just my tooth, especially since I now only had half of the damn thing left. Right in the front of my mouth. I looked in a mirror, and burst out into a renewed force of tearful sobbing.
“Ees no problemo!! No problemo!” he says. For every problem, there is a solution.
His solution was to tape a banana-colored piece of something I can only assume was a shard from a broken vase into the black hole that has now become my bite. He tries to tell me I’m all done now and can go home, the new pirate tooth he’ll just throw in there for free. But I should blend all my food from now on and try not to swallow the tooth if it falls out.
Five and a half hours later and half a tooth down, the garage dentist sends me out the door with an invoice that would afford him a new house (even one not made with oil barrels), and promises I will feel better now.
He was wrong.
Writhing on the floor of my hotel with a much-alarmed Ann staring at me, I call my mom and cry: What do I need? What will help me? Please for the LOVE OF GOD will someone help me!?!?!? She says I need opiates, which Ann directly translates to Opium, declaring me a junky but too sympathetic to say it out loud.
My face is beginning to swell. The pain makes me want to pass out. Something is very, very wrong. In hysterics and appropriately scared, I beg her to find a new doctor, which she does. The new doctor, who subsequently earned sainthood in my book, actually had studied medicine and wore latex gloves.
While keeping me on a steady, if nearly toxic, dosage of Novocain injections and shipping me back and forth across town to this or that scan, he identified an old fracture wound that had, for reasons unknown, infected and spread to my jaw. He said “Do you ever crash your bike?” Uhhhh. Maybe I need that full-face helmet.
Hence the pain, hence the fact that poking my tooth around (or replacing it with some scallywag jewellery) was of no use.
By this time my face had taken on the shape and size of a prize-winning pumpkin and working on me was not possible. I transferred from my lovely hotel (which I did not even get to enjoy) to the five-star hospital down the road and was introduced to the glories of The Morphine Drip.
Now I understand heroin addicts. If the nurses so much as suggested turning my drip down from maximum dosage, I freaked out to the tune of Courtney Love in detox. However, while kept apdequately sedated, I pretty much sounded like a John Lennon song.
Time passed, infection controlled with antibiotics, my new hero doctor (Dr. Jorge I called him), fixed me up right. This part was all a little scary because the remnants of my poor tooth needed to go and the risk of breaking the weakened jaw was rather high, but it all worked out fine. I subsequently and of free will opted to reduce my morphine intake.
Dr. Jorge suggested I leave without a tooth replacement (maybe missing front teeth are a fad in South America) and I explained in brief, concise words that I would not leave his office looking like a crack whore who had just had a run in with her pimp. Face swollen and bruised, eyes bloodshot, tooth missing, and suffering morphine withdrawal symptoms, that would be the only conclusion people draw. Thus, the good doctor made me a new pirate tooth (though I did decline the gold version), applied some of that fast-acting super glue, and sent me on my way with a warning to not bite into any apples. And try not to swallow that tooth.
In a couple of months, when my jaw bone heals, I get to sell a kidney so I can afford a tooth implant. Until then, I’m hiring myself out as an authentic pirate for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.
For contributing to this story, special thanks go to:
Ann, for tolerating my hysterics, surviving sleep deprivation, and getting me the best care possible. Martina, for her diplomatic translations of “get me more fucking pain medication right now.” Chelsea, for letting me doze off mid-conversation and not telling people how much I drool in my sleep. Evelyn, for her direct translation of “the woman said she wants more jello.” And Pete, for simply being there. And bringing me lots of coffee. To Dr. Jorge – who went to extreme lengths to take care of me. And to the Clinica Magellanes and all their attentive staff, willing to supply me with both narcotics and pudding. And to my husband, who had the foresight to purchase travel insurance for me.
|October 17, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose, Patagonia, Uncategorized|
I’ve been running for over two hours and my face hurts. It seems a rather odd sort of place to be suffering when the last one hundred and twenty minutes have been spent running up hills, down hills, and battling the constant gust of Patagonian winds. Anyway, I haven’t noticed much of anything but the view. Because this land is proof of God.
I woke up this morning to see the sun pour pink flamingo colors over the jagged snow-covered peaks of the Torres del Paine. They stand before me in the cool dawn air like a surreal painting of nature. Surely, only chemicals and acrylic can produce this sort of iridescence. A blanket of gray clouds covers the mountains, as if they too are just waking from a slumber.
I have none of the race nervousness one would expect before a marathon. I am filled, rather strangely, with gratitude. For the next several hours, I’m going to run through the wilderness of Patagonia, ever approaching these spectacular mountains.
Despite the distraction of Mother Nature, some pesky thing in my head hurts and I apply my usual approach of self-medicating with ibuprofen. I’m aware the levels are reaching near-toxic, but I haven’t had a cell phone signal in days and the closest thing to a doctor out here is probably the Guanaco shepherd, so I figure a little anti-inflammatory will get me through whatever the pain is. Added benefit: No sore knees during the run.
The starting line is deep in the Torres del Paine National Park, located at the edge of the Andes in Chilean Patagonia. In what is seemingly the middle of nowhere, a band of Lycra-clad runners are trotting themselves warm at the edge of a glacial lake. There is a generator-powered stereo blaring warm-up music, audible only when the wind carries it in the right direction. The gravel roadside has been decorated with orange Gatorade flags – the only other indicator that perhaps some sporting event is going to take place.
There are interviews around us and conversations. War stories of previous marathons are being swapped. People are openly wondering what the hell to wear. In Patagonia, you can have all four seasons in a five-minute period. It is barely above freezing, but the wind is howling (a light breeze by Patagonian standards), and the clouds can’t seem to decide whether they’ll rain or snow or just ominously hover. We make our way to the starting line. I stand near the back with Marathon Pop Star, Stefaan Engels. He’s run something like eight hundred marathons, but for a moment I thought I saw the twinkle of nervousness in his eyes. Because no matter how many times you may have run a marathon, there is no marathon like Patagonia.
The course map is deceivingly pleasant. Some rolling hills, winding past a few lakes, over a few creeks, and toward the foot of the overwhelming gray towers of the Torres. The race profile shows some elevation changes, including a rather sadistic climb from kilometer 21 to 31. Considering that speed bumps hurt late in a marathon, I’m emotionally prepared for the potential agony of those late hills.
There will not be spectators beyond the excited vans of journalists cruising up the road. And of course, the herds of Guanaco that graze disinterestedly. And a few puma who are eyeing a potential meal shrouded in Gore-Tex.
I watch the leaders round the first bend ahead of me, led by Australian Luke Myers. Not far behind him is fellow journalist, Sean McCoy. I try hard to hate Sean, because he just gave up smoking and started running, and he is planning his marathon debut with something like a 3-hour finish. In white basketball shorts and a gait resembling the hurried scurry of a fast bug, he pulls away with the leaders.
I pace myself behind Marathon Man and the little group that has formed around him. He runs steady and with as little resistance as possible – cutting all corners efficiently, his feet barely coming off the ground. That’s a dangerous step out here, because the “road” is a mine-field of rocks too large to be called gravel, but too small to be called boulders. I think to myself that the finish line will be a graveyard of toenails.
I would have tried to get serious about my run, but all I could do was gasp in amazement every time I rounded a bend, or summited an incline. Along the course I heard the same thing again and again: Wow.
Nature has been kind enough to load our planet with all kinds of wonders and beauties, but Patagonia has its own special quality of awe sprinkled with harshness that makes it unique. The trees grow crooked and close to the ground, bullied for years by the relentless winds. Valleys with flowing water seem almost lush, but are soggy peat bogs that will swallow shoes (or sheep). The turquoise lakes are blown by winds from the ice fields, leaving them frothy and bitterly cold. The rolling foothills of the Andes are scattered with islands of brown rocks that sing like sirens when the wind whips around them. In the distance, the violent walls of the mountains appear like a gate one may not pass.
When the sun comes through the moving clouds, it almost feels warm. In the first half of the race I am chatting lightly in basic English or haphazard Spanish as I run along. I can’t even remember the word for run, but I replace all my intentions of a supportive statement with a wide grin and a thumbs-up, which I assume is the international sign for “you’re lookin’ awesome!”
As the hours wear on, I feel my face more than my feet. Something is wrong but I can’t tell what so I try to ignore it. I pass the only other runner in Vibrams and he looks rather miserable. The terrain here is essentially the most difficult you could find for this type of minimalist shoe. I’ve already kicked a few rocks into my ankles and dropped a few F-bombs for the wildlife to hear. I pass the half-marathon start and see friend and colleague Pete Clayden laying in the dirt and taking pictures. It’s the closest thing to a spectator we’ve had the entire race. It is also the start of a climb that will last more than 10 kilometers.
It doesn’t matter though, because the higher we get, the better the view. I’ve been running alone for a while now, but I can see people ahead and behind me, moving like florescent game pieces down the road in the distance. I am left with nothing but the sound of my feet on the gravel and the ceaseless blowing of the wind. It blows me left and right. It blows me up hills and down hills. It comes in gusts that nearly lift me off the road. Sometimes I think I could just put on a cape and fly to the finish line. By kilometer 35, I am rather wishing I could.
Marathons are, as a rule, hard. This marathon is, however, in a category of its own. Between the wind, the extreme weather changes, and the terrain, training to run 42 kilometers is not enough. One must train in hills, on dirt and rock, in rain and shine, in snow and mud, possibly while trying to outrun a puma.
The last seven kilometers feel like twenty. The road gets rougher, then changes direction and the wind hits us directly from the front, sometimes bringing runners to a complete halt. People look tired. Whenever I feel tired, I lift my chin and stare up at the Torres. They are right in front of me now, forming the stone walls of a half-circle, snow falling down the steep crevices between pillars.
I can smell the post-race BBQ wafting down the valley from the finish line. Then I can hear the thumping of music, then the cheers of onlookers. At last I see the end, a firewood-lined path through a field that leads to the final banner. I’m tired and dusty, thirsty and hot or possibly cold. My legs want to stop, but for a brief moment I am sad that it will be over, because I feel like I could run toward those mountains all day long. I cross the finish line with a sigh of completion and turn to face the snowy peaks behind me.
And I think to myself, “This was the most beautiful run of my life.”
Sometimes a run is beautiful because you feel strong. Sometimes it’s beautiful because you find yourself winding through trees in autumn colors. And sometimes it is beautiful because it makes you keenly aware of the blessing of life. This was a run of gratitude – gratitude to my body for allowing it, gratitude to nature for providing it, and gratitude to all the circumstances and people involved in creating such an incredible experience.
Luke ended up winning the race by a long shot – his bright blue eyes pioneering the way several minutes ahead of the pack. Sean came in third in his fast-young-whipper-snapper category. As for me, I made a lot of new friends in the middle of the pack and kept all of my toenails.
My face, on the other hand, nearly exploded after tinkering by a gloveless man humming to mariachi music on the radio at four in the morning. Coming soon: Part II – The pirate tooth and other South American urban legends.
|August 20, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose|
I’ve noticed a sort of phenomenon among my peer group lately. They’re finding God.
It was as if they were slipping their shoes on one day, something bumped their toe, and they pulled their foot out only to discover God was stuck in the toe box. They’re finding God in pockets they clean out before laundering, in forgotten lunch boxes, and old cedar chests. They’re finding him at the discount shelf in Target.
One day they are considering whether or not they should line up a retirement plan, when suddenly the impending doom of post-mortum darkness and the potential of eternity spent watching Full House reruns (my version of Hell) brought them enlightenment. Even my husband the Atheist decided there must be more to life than what they discover in Star Trek episodes.
I’ve been watching this from a distance and wondering if it is contagious. First it was that damn Twilight series. Now it’s church! Will I be overcome too? Will I replace pajama party Sundays and hangovers with big hats and post-prayer fried chicken? I’m not even sure white people can go to those cool churches where they sing gospel and then fry hallelujah chicken thereby bringing glory to gluttony. I’d probably be forced into one of those Utah churches where my first born is married off in utero. And since I can’t sing, I’d have to talk in tongues (See: Freakishly weird behavior of the faithful).
Obviously, I’ve been in full panic and avoiding most social contacts on Sundays out of fear that someone might invite me to their church. Taking me to church is like auctioning a sun-weathered stripper at a Hospice fundraiser: Obscene, but for a good cause.
Whether or not I secretly feel compelled to go to church, I’ve been relieved to discover that I can develop my relationship with God elsewhere, thus reducing the probability that, if there is a hell, I have to share a room there with Carrot Top.
Because God joined Facebook.
After he did all that universe creating, evolution, birth of Mark Zuckerberg, and inspiration of Facebook, of course. Though I know he’s omniscient, I still salute his forethought that connecting to our modern population would be best achieved through modern means of communication. God also appears to be a bit of a techie because he uses HootSuite to manage all his social media, from Twitter to Instagram. He just posted a picture of himself walking on water with the caption, “No need for PhotoShop, Suckahs.”
Instead of attending church, I’ve decided to friend God on Facebook and win favor by liking every post he ever makes. I’ll follow this up with some poignant commentary like, “And God spake.” I don’t actually know what that means because, despite his use of the latest technology, he still uses rather archaic English in his quotes of the Bible. Which is all he seems to post anyway. Like one of those comedians who makes it big and then just keeps doing the same material in Vegas.
I’m suspecting he’s just programmed an algorithm to randomly post from Psalms while he sips some umbrella drinks on the Maldives – two things that are proof there is a god and not just universal chaos. Universal chaos is also proven, but by the existence of fusion restaurants and walking as an Olympic sport, neither of which disprove the existence of God.
In any case, God and I are FB friends now and I’ve been inviting him to all my events and my Farmville ranch. I haven’t had a drought since and I’m pretty sure it’s because I spelled out “Genesis 1:12″ with my corn rows. In my real urban garden I only had room to make a peace symbol out of radishes, which sort of got out of control and now just look like a warped Mercedes logo.
Once again, I have narrowly escaped religion and maintained my resistance of the church without having a negative impact on my relationship to God. Thanks to Facebook, I can even poke him before prayer time, or send him a message. Most of the time I CC Santa Clause too, just to make sure I use a two-pronged approach.
God must be pretty busy though, because he still hasn’t responded to my Words with Friends request. Which is good, because with words like spake, hath, and worketh, I don’t stand a chance.
|June 29, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose, Uncategorized|
My dad is sipping coffee from across the diner table, an Oregon map in front of him. He hands it to me and says “When plans don’t pan out, the adventure begins.”
It doesn’t feel like an adventure yet. I’ve been sitting in a truck with a five year old for hours and if I hear Raffi sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star one more fucking time, I may drive off a bridge. We’re heading to Mt. Rainier in what is becoming an epic journey of gas station food bribery. It’s amazing what a kid will do for a bag of Cheetos.
The weather on Rainier has turned and a storm is coming in. Anyone who knows mountains knows you stay off them in sketchy conditions. We’re sitting in this Eugene, Oregon diner trying to figure out what to do with two days of bad weather delays. We decide to head east and visit family, driving through Oakridge. This depresses me. I can’t just DRIVE through Oakridge.
Oakridge, Oregon is a little gem of a town. Population 3,300. Streets: 2. Trailer parks: 17. Trails: 500 miles of some of the best mountain biking in the country. I see cars laden with bikes as we head east. I have fantasies about telling B to just crack a window and lock the doors, Mama’s gonna ride for an hour. But I know if I leave her in the car, she’ll just eat all my camping food. As we pass more bikes and head into Oakridge, I can hear the tears of my ibis on the rack.
Then I see my dad waving me down. He’s pulled his motorcycle over and he’s got the map out again. He tells me to drive up to Waldo Lake, where he’ll hike with B and I can go for a little ride. You know, check out the trail for an hour. I should have known better.
Waldo Lake is an alpine lake in the Cascade Range. At 1650 meters, it sits in some of the most picturesque landscape overlooking Mt. Bachelor, and surrounded by a 38 km trail. This is where the adventure begins because it is genetically impossible for me to ever go out-and-back. I cannot ride, turn around, and take the same trail back. There is some kind of physio/psychological defeat associated with turning around. It is 4 pm, I’m on my bike, and I’m going to try to tackle this loop in two and a half or three hours. The trail cutters I ask on the road tell me they haven’t cleared the south end of the lake yet, but it was not a bad year for tree falling. They were wrong.
The lake, though beautiful, appears to be the breeding ground of the world’s most aggressive, giant form of mosquito. I cannot stop even to pick my bike up over logs without twenty of them attacking me. In fact, they are so numerous and insistent, it’s starting to freak me out, like some scene from The Birds. I hear them buzzing all the time.
I am pedaling as hard as I can through a burned forest landscape. It is like being on a different planet. The trail is pristine, except the tree fall. The trees are like standing gray needles, the forest dead but somehow alive as new grass begins to grow. Determined to get around the lake, I throw my bike over and under logs as fast as I can, pedal through creeks, and crank up the hills. It is perfect and I can’t stop smiling and catching mosquitoes in my throat.
Which is how I first realize that my Camelbak is actually not full of water, but weighed down by bike tools and a rain jacket and a single sports gel. Apparently some small five year old has been sipping on my bag.
I think it is not a problem because there’s lots of water here but I underestimate the mosquitoes, who try to carry me away if I even slow down to check a creek out.
I am making good progress despite the fallen trees, and all the while curving around the shore of this incredibly, pristine lake. The water is a cool turquoise and I can see right through it to the bottom. About half way in and an hour fifteen on the watch, I hit the first patch of snow. Critical decision point here. I made the wrong one.
Do you turn around and lift your bike over all those logs again or assume that the trail ahead is probably logged and a few snow patches are easy enough to walk through? You turn around.
I do not. Because, like I said, stupidity, determination, and at this point, dehydration, are making decisions for me.
The snow patches get deeper and longer. I’m pushing my bike more than riding it. And I am doing this at break-neck speed because I realize that the sun will set, that I don’t have a light, and that the mosquitoes will have sucked all the blood from my dad and daughter if I take too long. For a while I can still find the trail between snow berms. And then I can’t find the trail anymore.
I’m standing in the middle of a thick forest. I can’t see the lake. I can’t see the trail. The last sign I saw said 8.7 miles to a bay. And I can’t stop moving because the bugs are eating me alive. Part of me wanted to cry and part of me wanted to eat some snow because I was hungry and thirsty.
I kept finding the trail again, looking for cut logs or any sign of opening, and working my way around the lake as fast as I could. Running in snow is hard. Running in snow in bike shoes is harder. Sometimes I’d fall in pockets up to my thighs. Some of the bridges were broken and bike and I had to wade through the waters. Sometimes I just rode through swamps and snow. Sometimes I crashed and got wetter. Sometimes I’d see enough trail to almost be able to ride, but a fucking tree would be in the way.
I came across a shelter that had a stove and firewood in it. And fourteen billion million trillion mosquitoes. I checked it for matches, found none, swore at my unpreparedness again, and told myself I’d have to camp there in the cold if I couldn’t find my way out tonight. Maybe I could build myself a firewood force field to ward off mosquitoes. Probably, I’d need a blood transfusion the next day.
Three and a half hours in, and having run the last eight miles or so, I finally ran up a snow bank and onto, hallelujah, a road. A paved, snow-free, easy to follow, ROAD. I pulled out my little picture of the area map and figured out where I was, and started to pedal. The sun was behind the mountain, dark clouds were looming, and it was getting cold. I thought it was just a mile or two to the parking lot… it was six. Plus the two miles I got lost in the wrong camp ground, because, as we have firmly established, I can get lost really good.
Exhausted, bruised, hungry and muddy I finally saw the truck in the waning light. I figured I’d see worried looks of relief and hear stories about rangers being sent out for me. Instead, B was showing Dad how to play games on the iPad, safely shielded from bugs in the cabin of the truck. My dad nonchalantly asks, “What time is it?” as if I’d just left, as if I had not just spent over four hours expending every bit of energy I had in a race against the dark, fantasizing about the cougars that were sizing me up for dinner.
I collapsed onto the front seat, a soggy, scratched pile of mosquito bites and mud, thinking, “And so the adventure begins…”
|June 12, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose, Uncategorized|
I am standing in the kitchen making my husband his favorite meal and batting my eyelashes so much it’s making me dizzy. My husband is a smart man, and it’s going take more than a few logical arguments to convince him that what would be really good for our marriage right now is if I bought a new bike.
No really, bikes make everything better.
If you’re a mountain biker, or any kind of biker, bikes are sort of like babies. You may have been fine without one, or fine with the one you’ve got, but some unknown force compels you to need one, a new one, another one.
They are different from babies insofar as you have to sell a kidney outright to pay for a bike, whereas children bleed your money out of you slowly. Until they want bikes too.
I had been looking for a bike for months and reading bike magazines like porn, including drooling on the pages and groaning. I think my husband was getting jealous as I eagerly flipped pages in bed. I promised him that if I had a new bike, not just any new bike, but THIS new bike, things would change. I would love him more. The sex would be mind blowing.
That last part did the trick.
I had been trying to find my dream bike here in Germany but was greeted by the standard German customer service that repulses most people from ever buying anything. This is a sort of magic force in Germany, similar to the one that discourages anything but sausage and bread from the plate.
Germans are so effective at repelling potential buyers from actually spending any money, they have managed to create the most stable economy in Europe. They act like it’s the result of financial planning and prudence, but really it’s just bad customer service. Conversations with bike shops would go like this:
Me: So do you sell bikes?
23 year old stoner on a scooter: Uhhhhh.
Me: Can I test ride one of your bikes?
Shopkeeper: Not unless you buy it first.
Me: Then it wouldn’t be a “test” really, would it?
Shopkeeper: Go avay, you are not gut enuff to be ze customer.
Stefan Hartrampf was like a German version of your neighborhood California bike shop owner. He was even… friendly.
Days later I arrived at the Wiesbaden main station to meet Stefan who was awaiting me with a cup of coffee in his hand and an ibis Mojo behind him. The coffee wasn’t for me (room for improvement there, Stefan), but coffee drinkers are sympathetic. I decided right away he must be trustworthy if not a kindred spirit. He gave me the scenic tour of the beautiful city that his gallery calls home, and then we hit the trails on the sweetest bike I ever rode.
One test ride on the ibis and I was in love. This crisp, nimble bike had a geometry that simply fit. The power transferred so immediately with each downstroke that I had the feeling I flew up the mountain. How would it handle coming back down?
If the ibis Tranny is anything, it is competent.
That’s what makes it such a versatile bike: Light and stiff for cranking up hills, agile and responsive for ripping down trails.
A few weeks later Stefan called to tell me all my parts were in, and if I wanted, we could build my bike together. When I arrived, all the parts were laid out on a table like an organized puzzle. I recalled the time I took a bike apart only to discover all the parts fit in a shoe box and I’d never be able to put it back together again. Fortunately, tri-cycles knows how to build bikes better than I.
One Saturday afternoon and several cups of coffee later, I had learned a lot about carbon
frames and shifting cables, and Stefan had learned a lot about English swear words. Once just an idea, then a few parts, and suddenly a bike was born.
Which of course we had to take for a ride. It’s all part of Stefan’s incredible customer service package: cappuccinos and test rides. And he gets something that few shops seem to understand: It is not just about buying a bike – it’s about buying happiness. It is about knowing where your bike came from, how it fits together, and why you chose a specific frame and components. It’s about creating the foundation for miles of dream riding.
Apparently, the ibis was a good choice. Every time I race it, it rides me straight to the podium. It is the perfect bike for me, with the perfect fit and the right components for my style of riding. These are things you can only discover with time, experience, and a bike shop that knows their product.
And every time I ride it, I feel like calling up tri-cycles and thanking them for helping me build not just any bike, but my bike.
God help me if I try out road cycling… I only have one kidney left to sell. But I bet it would be worth it.
|April 19, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose, Uncategorized|
It is creeping up on midnight and the residue of my over-stuffed day is still dripping down my face in the form of impossibly permanent mascara. I throw back the covers of the bed, and adorning nothing but the sexiest of flannel pajamas with a toothpaste smudge, flop with a thud onto the mattress. My capacity for conversation is comparable to an amoeba in a vegetative state. The Man peers up from his I-Read-Smart-People-Books Helmut Schmidt biography and casually announces the following:
“Did I tell you I believe in God now?”
His timing is impeccable, but I’ve known this since he interrupted a perfect appetizer with a marriage proposal.
A little background information on The Man. He attended the Technical University of Berlin and got some smarty pants degree in space ships or interstellar propulsion or star mechanics or something. Prereq: Being an atheist. He grew up so close to socialist Germany, he’d be asked to pass the toilet paper under the stall to the commie side (and as we know, all commies are unbelieving heathens). The last time he went to church, he was probably in utero. And back when we were dating (in the kitchenette at work mostly) and still interested in the ideals of each other, he very clearly told me that we’re all dust and matter and return to dust and matter in the end. God, he said, is just a crutch. Or something like that.
Now, he explains as I begin drooling on my pillow, he believes in God because otherwise the whole universe would really just be pointless. (I’m thinking “like this conversation” but I’ve been married just long enough to know we’re not supposed to say our thoughts out loud.) Meanwhile, I am trying to understand why the existence or non-existence of a god makes the universe more or less pointless. At midnight. In my pajamas.
Of course, I’m a good wife, so I throw myself at this new challenge like any good partner would. First I got to be the mid-life crisis, now I get to accompany The Man through his spiritual infancy and development. If neither of those things land him in hell, then nothing will.
So I’m taking applications from religious groups so that he might expand his spiritual horizon. It’s fantastic because usually I’m turning away those Mormons and Jahovahs and Scientologists from the front door with warnings that I have Turrets/Leprosy/Compulsion to Expose Myself. Generally I do this while swearing and pretending I just lost my thumb in my bra. Apparently, some people just aren’t worth saving. But now I’m going to welcome them in and wait to tell them all that stuff until they have a fresh cup of coffee (which, by the way, I’m not wholly convinced is not a deity itself [double negative, I'm from Idaho]).
Obviously, while I want to support his philosophical inquest here, mostly I want to direct him toward a religion from which I would benefit. On this matter, I’m a little torn.
- Mormons have a lot going for them: That whole multiple wife thing has some serious perks. Just as long as I’m not the house cleaning wife. I want to be the cooking wife and the shopping wife. Con: Coffee isn’t in the cards. That’s a deal breaker for me.
- Catholics are just pagans in disguise: What with all that ritual, costume, and icon worship, they are quite possibly the funnest religion out there. Con: Orgies less popular than with the pagans.
- Scientologists: An impressive roster of followers. Con: They’re obviously crazy.
- Jahovahs: No birthdays? WTF?
- Buddhists: Weird haircuts.
- Toaists: Good poetry.
- Jewish: Bagels. Need I say more.
The further I consider, the more confused I become. Try as I might, I cannot find a religion that supports the copious consumption of coffee, the worship of the housewife, and the generous sharing of all credit cards.
So I said, “Honey, now that you’ve come to this conclusion, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you and it might come as a surprise. I am god.”
It was worth a try.
|March 8, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose|
It is hard to command a position of respect when people know you have porn on your phone.
As I have explained in a previous post, I somehow got inebriated at a parent board meeting and was voted as president of a kindergarten. I would like to clarify a few points here:
1. The kindergarten is a tree-huggin’, hippie commune in the forest where emotion and organic meals take the same priority.
2. You have to be seriously inebriated to survive a parent board meeting with beatnik green party members. In Germany. (Which kind of exponentially increases the seriousness to which a human can take their level of devotion to banning atomic energy and the like.)
Now, some things have been going awry at our free-love kindergarten because, God forbid, someone made a decision without ensuring that all parties have found inner peace on the matter first. Communication, open communication and fairness and granola are pretty much priority around here. And so the President (me) and the Vice-President (unnamed victim) called a meeting to discuss these very important matters with our teaching staff before they escalated to the likes of an Elders Gathering or Sage Burning.
We chose a neutral place for our meeting today: A cafe where they serve coffee and organic teas.
We arrived with our points of discussion carefully laid out: Words were chosen specifically to not offend or point fingers or suggest using non-recycled materials.
It’s funny how things come full circle in a conversation. In order to keep things casual, we all somehow began talking about it being International Women’s Day. I complained that instead of celebrating women we seemed to be bashing men (see my post from last year) and one of the teachers told me that in some countries today is a holiday and none of the women go to work. Sweet. My whole life is like International Women’s Day.
I am sitting at a small cafe table with two teachers and the vice president and we are having very serious conversations about things like safety measures below swings, competency of the Party & Celebrations Department, and trust in the value of people’s statements. Because that’s what running a kindergarten is all about.
So when my phone peeps, I ignore it. It is sitting on the small cafe table and I don’t even glance at it because I want the teachers to be aware of how mesmerized I am by the significance of our discussion. I am focused, like a good president. Like when Bush won’t blink during a book reading in class, my “Message Received” notification does not penetrate my concentration on the matters at hand. The people at the table glance at the brief disturbance, but continue the conversation.
For the record, I have an iPhone and I love it like butter. In case you do not have an iPhone and you are thinking of maybe getting one, please do not let the remainder of this story influence your decision to purchase. Because I am sure there is some kind of setting that could be changed to avoid a fiasco such as the one to follow, but as I do not actually know how to use the phone I own, such things occur.
“… and thus it is essential for the socio-emotional development of the children that we continue to provide vegetarian…”
My phone, insistent like a toddler, reminds me that I ignored the first notification of a message and so I try, without being noticed, to divert my eyes to the screen to see who is writing me what.
As my husband was, at that moment, taking care of my child and the VP’s two children, it was a possibility that he was messaging me to inform me that someone had chopped off their fingers or ingested a Lego or something of that sort. By now, the peeping of my phone had shifted from occurrence to annoyance. I decided to make an expressions of concerned importance when looking at it so everyone at the table would understand that whatever was being sent to me probably affected everyone and we should probably all be paying close attention.
The engineers at Apple are clever blokes. Just so we don’t have to further distract ourselves from meetings, they show messages on the screen when they arrive. Or when they remind. And so when my phone peeped, sitting in the middle of the tiny table, less than a foot away from everyone surrounding it, the screen displayed the message. Some of us are fast readers, others are not, but in this case it did not matter.
Because the screen of my phone was lit up with the glowing image of a bright, pink, and quite stiff, PENIS.
And I don’t just mean in the background. I mean my phone was like a Christmas light of potential coitus. Proud and pert it stood, for all the wool-wearing people to see.
I reached over, clicked the dimmer button, and said something distracting like, “And are the children singing Tolstoy rhymes during the sunrise circle?”
The VP was looking alarmed now and I wasn’t sure if it was because I mentioned Tolstoy rhymes (if he’d written them, they would have made Shakespeare appear short-winded) or if it was because she likely assumed that my husband was sending me photos of his erection while a) I was meeting with the kindergarten teachers and b) he was supposed to be watching the kids.
Further clarification: Even from across a coffee table, I could identify said protrusion as one I had not yet met in person. And/or had too many cocktails to remember. In any case, I wasn’t married to it.
Mortified, I tried to stop blushing and wracked my brain about who-in-God’s-name-would-send-me-a-picture-of-their-business-at-four-in-the-afternoon?!?!? and focus on more important matters at hand (the security of top secret documents about kindergartner development).
My phone peeped again, and this time I snatched it off the table before it had even finished its peep, fearful that the next image might have me in the background dancing with a bag of rufies.
It was a text message from an unnamed friend (I am protecting your identity for your mother’s sake, but you so.freaking.owe.me.) reminding me that it’s International Women’s Day. Apparently the electronic erection card is a traditional means of celebrating.
Which reminds me, I should forward that message to all my lady-friends. It was definitely worth appreciating.
|January 30, 2012||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose, Patagonia, Uncategorized|
I am pretty sure my Spanish teacher believes in magic. Which is why he has one of those impossibly long names like Luis Daniel de la Burrito de Pollo del Casa con Quesa. You never meet a person with a simple name, like Bob Smith, who believes in magic.
When I was looking for someone to teach me Spanish, I had few requirements: The person must know a plethora of swear words so that I may accurately articulate in an authentic representation of my personality, and they should pretend to be very impressed with my progress, no matter how limited. For this, I pay a small fortune. Actually my kid’s college fund because she said she’s going to be a tiger when she grows up and tigers don’t need to go to Ivy League school.
I should have known something was amiss the first time Luis Daniel de la Bodega del Tequila de Rio Grande asked me if I had done my homework. I don’t pay the equivalent of a Saudi princess’ dowry so that I can do homework. For this price, I could have a Spanish chip implanted into my brain. For the first three lessons, I tried to impress him with my vocabulary of cocktail ingredients and Taco Bell drive-thru negotiations. It failed and I left each class with haphazard conjugations of verbs and the ability to request the next bathroom/rescue helicopter/posta medica (uh, three things not as related as they appear here).
Somewhere along the way we had one of those Spanish get-to-know you conversations. I came across as a wholesome American girl because I am linguistically incapable of saying anything true about myself in Spanish (except my propensity for tequila consumption shines through). I did come out with “yo soy caliente” which I was promptly informed is considered the standard hooker greeting on the streets of Mexico City. At least I know that if I run out of money, I will have the language skills to make more. During this unwitting conversation about the state of my libido, I learned that el Senor likes to paint and I was glad to know we had something in common besides our height.
And then things got interesting.
El Senor likes to paint bodies. I don’t mean portraits. I mean bodies. My respect for him jumped from 5’3″ to 6’1″ in less time than it took for me to recall that Jerry Garcia bush-as-beard image I can never erase from my brain. I’ve seen some far-out body painting in my day, and not just at the Rainbow Barter Fair in Eugene, Oregon (where 50% of the visitors wear paint, and the others just wear piercings and tattoos). But upon further inquiry I was informed that we were not discussing the sort of painting that puts a pair of airbrushed jeans on Heidi Klum. Suddenly, a string of descriptive adjectives came flying across the table – word combinations that remind me of my spiritual infancy. Like,
“Mind body connection”
and the one I fear most:
The latter sounds a little better in Spanish: crecimiento personal. But it likely has the same horrible connotations of introverted self-processing and other things I do my darndest to avoid. Which is why I am a virtual Peter Pan of emotional maturity, forever stuck at twelve years old and having a crush on the last boy that made eye contact with me.
So my Peruvian Spanish teacher is immersed in the world of juju stuff disguised with words like “holistic” and “sustainable.” Usually in some alternating combination. At first I was alarmed and concerned about this discovery. What if he tried to convert me or encouraged spiritual growth? Or worse… what if he convinced me to go to a yoga class?!
My concern was exacerbated by our lesson on the six senses.
I thought I heard wrong. There are only cinco sentidos. Unless you consider the Latin American ability to dance a sixth sense for which we have no English word. But my Spanish teacher conjugated it for me:
I humored him and when he left I did some banal Western Civilization sort of thing like play Mah Jong until my eyeballs were sore.
Eventually I got around to doing some of that homework he had told me about. Apparently there is a theory that if you sit down and try really hard to learn something, you might actually learn something. And there I was sitting at my table writing down the future tense of something, my brain totally stuck on some question I had about infinitive verbs, thinking… I better not call and ask because technically I pay like five dollars a minute for his time… when…
He called me.
Creepy synergy brain wave stuff happened. El intuye. He’s pretty good. But if he was really good, I’d have learned Spanish telepathically by now.
|December 28, 2011||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose, Uncategorized|
Every year it’s the same thing. I pick some sort of lofty goal of self-achievement, personal-growth, or athletic-stupidity to undertake. There have been some real winners in there over the years. Like the year I wanted to read something from every Nobel Literature winner and I made it to Theodor Mommsen’s A History of Rome before I gave up, mostly because I couldn’t stay awake beyond the third page. There was the year I was going to return library books on time (I still have some of them). Take my vitamins every day (still have some of those too). Have sex twice a week (went great until I was single and unwilling to spend my weekends earning extra cash at a bordello). Eat organic. Buy local. Write letters. Drink less. Be better.
In the weeks leading up to New Years I successfully avoid doing anything good for myself by establishing a “right time” clause in my daily behavior. There is, after all, a right time for everything. December appears to be the right time for gluttony, binge drinking, and embarrassing yourself in front of your neighbors (often all on the same night). I go through phases that one might liken to accepting pending death, from hoping that rapture will come on the 31st, to a sort of bloated, pathetic resignation when the first of January rolls around. Alright, New Year, come and do what you will, with all your gym sessions, deprivation, and self-depreciation. I’ll play along until I’m eventually motivated by the much greater fear of being seen in a swimsuit.
Without a doubt there are people in The Circle (this is not a reference to a Nia class, but rather a group of friends and acquaintances) that challenge or reiterate one’s own beliefs about the New Year and New You phenomenon. My personal favorite are those that say they don’t need “January 1st” to make a wanted change in their lives because they are in a constant state of self improvement. I am assuming, for my own sake, that their resolutions are simply too embarrassing to admit (masturbate less than three times a day, stop stealing change from mother’s purse, vote democrat) so they come up with something to remind you that bettering yourself once a year is far from enough. The only thing worse than these non-resolutioners are resolutioners who actually achieve their goals every year. Even Buddhists despise them.
The truth is, after the holidays, you don’t need a New Year’s Resolution, you need fucking Cookie Detox and Relatives Rehab. And let’s not forget the physical/emotional dependency to spiked eggnog most of us have developed. Maybe that’s why the placement of the New Year has us desperate to turn a “new leaf” and set lofty goals for ourselves. There has to be some reason why January the First gets all the good intentions and not September the Fourth.
Once Christmas passes, I find myself in full panic about the pending (but unavoidable) goal I have surely set for myself. So I start early. The Head Start Resolutioner is the elitist little prick who was seen at the gym on December 30th and believes they have grandfathered rights to the treadmill. All the rookie resolutioners that pour in on January 2nd have to draw sticks to get a spot somewhere on the squat machine. I know this to be true because I run year round and that makes me elitist. Rain or shine, I’m out in the trees wearing whatever gear is necessary to not freeze to death or suffocate under a layer of mud. And on January 1st all these sorry, hungover, runners appear out of the woodwork like temporary little termites scuttling across my trails. Yeah peeps. My trails. I smile the encouraging smile of a woman greedy for like five thousand acres of her own running space and think “Wait until the first rain. You’ll cave in, you weak Resolutioner. You’ll never last.” Which is true. But they come back when it’s warm again. Which also seems unfair to me. If I stopped running for three months, I’d look like the wide side of a Richard Simmon’s video. By that rule, the April forest should be full of plump little people in legwarmers listening to It’s My Party on their iPods and shuffling with a wheeze. Where’s the justice, I say?
This year I had good intentions to health kick, go on the wagon, and avoid sugar like it was dirty cocaine at sunrise. (Where do I come up with these analogies, you ask?) I was doing pretty good until I swished with Listerine before bed and swallowed half the cap. I tell you what, that stuff is way cheaper than an ’88 Pinot Noir and gets you slammed way faster. Plus, you’re amazingly fresh and have sterile teeth afterwards. So there I was standing in my bathroom, and on this premature failure of a premature New Year’s Resolution I thought to myself,
Every year it’s the same song and dance. The year of the lion, tiger, or bear, oh my. The year of Change. The year of Elections. The year I will file my taxes on time. The year I will wear a size four. The year I will finish knitting that goddamn sweater with yarn now so old it will disintegrate before completion. The year of being a better wife, mother, runner…
So this year my New Year’s Resolution is start smoking. Because if I fail at that, then at least I can say I successfully quit smoking.
And if I don’t fail, maybe I’ll fit into that size four by summer.
|December 23, 2011||Filled under Miscellaneous Prose|
There are some truths that are indisputable even when you wish they were. In this case, the apple not falling far from the tree is one of those laws of the universe dictated by quantum physics or something as basic as Newton’s Law of Gravity. This is a hypothesis about the strength of genetic traits, including the Embarrassing Fiasco gene which apparently is dominant and is passed down through the female line.
I took my mom to a spa retreat for a few days. It was a Christmas present from The Man and I (he’s going for that special Best Ever Son In Law award). I wanted it to be one of those swanky places where you go with your good luggage and shined shoes and pretend that this is your real life.
We had been picked up by a driver at the train station. They hold these little signs with your name on it. I always try to get them to write something like “Duchess Ammi” or “Your Holiness” because names are not very unique and I don’t want them accidentally driving off with the wrong lady. There could be any number of Ammis in a small German village loitering at the train station. It was snowing and beautiful and we were dressed in black because I think rich people always wear black. It makes their gold stand out more. But I didn’t have any gold, so I went with black and decided I’d refer to myself as “humble but wealthy” for the day.
We waltzed into the establishment with our make-up and our excessive perfume with the poise and elegance of ladies that probably have their own private masseuses but temporarily employ others just to keep things exciting. Obviously we were important (or the only guests) because when we strut up to the reception they knew who we were and were obviously preparing things for us. I had visions of people in housekeeping outfits running around in a mad rush to make sure everything was right for our arrival.
Standing there at the reception and making small talk with the receptionist, my mother decided to have a glance around at the fine lobby and the other guests. She leaned easily upon the counter and looked around. I filled out some paperwork and asked important-sounding questions about the spa because, as everyone knows, you’re only important if you can ask important-sounding question.
Then, from the corner of my eye I saw something out of place. It was one of those moments in which all things happen so fast that they suddenly seem rather slow motion. But the only thing really happening in slow motion was the concern of my mother, who had a rather odd expression on her face as she observed the guests of the lobby and wondered why they, me, and most of the hotel staff was gasping in horror and charging her at full tilt.
My dear mother, bless her soul, was virtually unaware of the foot-high flames shooting up the back of her head and lighting her up like she was the very Angel of Christmas herself, halo and all. But one can be blissfully oblivious to being on fire for only a short period and I am not sure which thing inspired her to take on the much more appropriate look of panic first: The crackling of her hair and the realization that her affection for hairspray was a clear disadvantage at this point, or the wretched stench of hair fusing to the polyester of her scarf. In either case, the calm customer expression was gone and several people were about ready to attack her with their jackets.
Which they/we did while the receptionists looked on in horror and the brush fire was extinguished. This was done with the efficiency of women so hysterical they were willing to risk wardrobe damage to save my mother’s life. Or her hair. Unfortunately, the latter did not fair so well. Neither did the Advent Wreath candles.
What was left of my mother’s long, blonde locks was a sort of mixture of less long, blonde locks and matted, chemically volatile dread locks. And a smoky cloud wafting through the hotel for the next two hours. Which we spent in the bar drinking free champagne. This may have been a bad idea.
Because not but a few minutes after we traumatized most of the hotel staff, we headed from bar to restaurant to get a bite to eat. Unfortunately for my mother, Christmas decorations are rather prominent during the holiday season, and in some bizarre concentration of the visible genetic characteristics of the Embarrassing Fiasco Condition, her humility would be further tested.
The crash heard echoing through the lobby was so loud and explosive that every head turned except my mother’s. Because she had, in an exhibit of secret mother super skills, disappeared behind the door and pressed herself against a wall a la James Bond, well out of the sight of everyone. Which left me standing near the eight billion shards of glass that had once been what appears to be the World’s Biggest Christmas Ball Ever.
Over the teetering of the receptionists I heard my mom say “I am never. going. out. there. again.”
Which probably would have been a good idea because the next day she poured all the coffee into the milk pitcher and then tried to drink it all down before anyone noticed. We decided mishaps happen in three and with that she could finally relax and enjoy our retreat.
Except she was junked up on like a gallon of coffee.