Just Keep Swimming…

Simply Complicated

Ever look at your life and feel like you could easily be on Springer?

As I get older I wonder why I feel the need to simplify. Then I think objectively about my life and say, “Ah, yes, it’s because I’m leading some freakish existence.” Now, before I get going, let me say that I understand the following:
A) My life is the result of decisions I have made, and I do NOT blame anyone but myself for my unwise choices.
2) Stupidity is making the same decisions and expecting different results.
c) Compared to the Israeli soldier who dies for his country or the “freedom fighter” who flies a plane into a building for what he believes (or, for that matter, most of the people living in Kenneth City), my life is NOT that bad.

Ok, so to follow that thought… “embrace the suck” (Thanks, Lu!): I am a thirty-two year old childless divorcee who values the company of canines over that of people. I will, in all probability, end up living alone in a cool but nonetheless creepy house, save for nine or ten stray dogs. Children will run past my house at night because rumors will develop involving strange “ceremonies” at my house. I will wear pink fuzzy slippers as I walk my mutts around town, and people will whisper in conspiratorial tones, “You know, she had it all once… she was a writer, had a man, and seemed so full of life. No one knows what happened, but it’s been said weird light comes from her bedroom window every full moon.” I make choices that other people would laugh at, and I tend to follow my gut even when I know it’s not the best idea (hello, I spent five years working for county government). I spend too much time reading cheesy romances. I have some talent, I suppose, as a writer, but have chosen to use it to report on pancake breakfasts instead of writing The Great American Novel. I have no tolerance for committees, meetings, and organized functions, shunning them instead for margaritas, beaches, and the ocean. If given the choice between a social event where I could meet others with similar interests and watching The Birdcage on DVD for the umpteenth time, I will bow out of the social engagement (usually by not showing up without calling), put on Tom’s old shirt, pour some rum, and click on the DVD. My life’s ambition is to sail a boat to a faraway island and live there. Beyond that, I do not have higher goals. Should I live long enough to age past the point of caring for myself, I will have no savings to speak of and will find myself in a medicaid bed in a large nursing home that has been on the news at least three times in the past year. After I use what scant savings I have from my years with the Freakshow (government work, for the uninitiated), I will never have more than $1700 in the bank at any given time. The summit of my writing career hasn’t been reached yet, but I feel fairly certain I will achieve it quite by accident and it will never make it into one of those hideous literature books we all had to read in college. My most prized possession is a pen. I have been peeing outside for well over a month and have developed a remarkably blase attitude about where I pee (after all, what’s the worst that could happen if a neighbor sees me- do you REALLY think after seeing some of the crap that’s happened here over the past year a woman peeing outside is gonna make them SUDDENLY realize all is not all well at Fruitcakes Estates?). I love who I am.

So, bear that all in mind as you read the following.

Here’s my last 32 hours:

FRIDAY
12:30 p.m. Phone rings. It is Chez. I am on the phone; he’ll just have to wait.

12:40 p.m. I call him back. He asks me for $450 so he doesn’t go back to jail. It is fortunate for me I am not drinking milk; I would have snorted it out my nose. I tell him no. He says he’s just going to turn himself into the bail guys at 2:30.

4:45 p.m. I call Frank for something inane. I ask if Chez got everything worked out. His response? “I don’t know where he is or what he did.” I lack the foresight to think that strange.

6:15 p.m. Chez’s bail bondsman (for the naive, it’s not about kinky sex… they keep you -ostensibly- out of jail) calls me and tells me Chez was supposed to come pay him $450 at 2:30 that afternoon, never showed up, and they are looking for him to put him in jail. He reminds me that just over a year ago I signed on a bond for Chez and, should they fail to locate him, I am on the hook for $5000. I tell him what I know. He seems to doubt me. I assure him that the sorry excuse for a human that is Chez is not worth losing my house over and that I will do everything in my power to help them locate him.

8 p.m.-ish Chez calls me and assures my voicemail that “they” cannot take my house and he is not running.

SATURDAY

9:00 a.m.-ish Frank informs me that he will most likely use his rent money (payable to me) to pay the $450 for Chez and then tell him he can’t live there anymore. I got news for you, bud, I don’t have the rent in three days, NONE of you can live there anymore.

9:30 a.m. The Bank of Cathy officially closes as I put a three day notice on their door. I go to Leroy’s girlfriend’s house to let him know there exists a very real possibility that he will be homeless by Tuesday. I feel bad for him, even though I know he chose his roommates. Leroy seems visibly upset that Frank is planning to use the money Leroy gave him to pay for Chez’s bond. Resultingly, he tells me where Chez may be staying.

1 p.m. I meet a bounty hunter for the first time in my life. He is big, bald, and carries a gun. No Chez.

4 p.m. I see Chez’s girlfriend’s car at her house; Chez, I assume, is there. I call aforementioned bounty hunter. Apparently these guys are like vampires- unless it’s their “client’s” listed address, they need to be invited in. He does not want to, in his words, “spook” him.

6:45 p.m. Bounty hunter calls me and asks me if I have a boyfriend. Says we can pretend he is my boyfriend to lure Chez out of hiding. I thank god that I ever met Tom and explain that Chez knows my “boyfriend” (what am I, thirteen?) well and won’t buy it.

Which brings me to now. I am supposed to be working.

Instead, in typical disregard for the concept of not making major decisions when you’re under stress, here’s what I have decided:

*House going up for sale 4/15. We will fix what we can by then and hope for the best
*With proceeds will buy a SINGLE family home. Over the concept of landlording. I suck at it and don’t want to get better.
*Will buy a house that I can have less than a $20k mortgage. Not interested in doing anything for money, like public relations or lifeguarding. As soon as this house sells, I will no longer do anything because I could use the money.
*Don’t think I’m gonna run the pool this summer. This has nothing to do with anything going on but I just don’t want to be responsible for anyone but me. Running a pool means I’m responsible for it for nine weeks.

Seems like I just DID this a few years ago. Here’s all I want out of life anymore:

The ability to sit on a beach and sip a drink that contains three types of alcohol and two types of fruit WITHOUT worrying that if I don’t get back to work I won’t be able to make the mortgage.

A boat.

I want to be able to fly a plane.

I want to live with dogs.

I only want people in my life who don’t owe me rent money.

Like I said at the beginning of this epic, I KNOW I created this mess. Now I’m getting myself out of it. Bear in mind I don’t care about the five grand as much as I do WHY I’d have to come up with it- my own stupidity. I am getting out of a house that, much like Communism in Russia 60 years ago, seemed like a good idea at the time. Also getting myself out of the hefty mortgage and the concept of living in close proximity to anyone but someone that 1) gave birth to me (and even then only for a short time), B) is in love with me, or 3) is blood related to me or someone I love. Oh, and Mardi. She can always come here until we kill each other.

Any thoughts on ways to evict people cheaply or quickly would be welcome.

Also, if you know a way to lure a fugitive out of their “safe house”, drop me a line. At this point, I’m open to anything but screwing the guy.

C.

I swear to god I am NOT making this up.

ALTERNATE TITLE: PEOPLE ARE FREAKS
“Suzie” (not her real name) joins the Dachshund Protection Program. I could tell you more but then I’d have to kill you.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Deep sigh.
Now you do one, too (trust me on this).

So, I’m driving to the Kash n Karry last night to pick up Leroy (pouring rain, couldn’t do it to him when I saw him an hour before, he rides his bike to work), and my phone rings. It’s Bev from DARE (Dachshund rescue).
“We have a problem and we need to move Suzie.” (again, not her real name). Suzie is my foster Dachshund (from last week’s incident, reference the prior blog entry-Suzie was one of the puppies I was referring to). Well, was. you’ll see.
“Why?”

Ok, let’s paraphrase: Remember the freaky lady I wasn’t very nice to last Saturday? Yeah, well, she and her daughter have decided that we STOLE the puppies and she has called the police (sidenote here: as Tom said, imagine being the cop who got THAT call- “Unit nine, when you’re done checking out a rape, swing by such and such address and check on stolen puppies”- this is why we can’t rehabilitate criminals, look at where we’re spending our manpower!) and, apparently, threatened me, threatened to come get the puppies, etc. So, DARE wants to relocate the puppies so I’m- and this is a direct quote- “not in any danger”. From a blonde? Please.

So, of course, they have located a “safe house” for my remaining foster, Suzie. I ask Bev if we should change her name. I am kidding. Bev says it wouldn’t be a bad idea. I believe she may have been serious. I then start to laugh and ask if I should dye her hair or shave her. THAT gets a laugh from Bev (thank god, I was starting to worry). I ask when I can bring “Suzie” to her safe house.

“Now. Immediately.”

Now, let me take a break here and say that I, more than anyone I know, think dogs are infinitely better than people, and I would move heaven and earth for mine if I thought I should. But, aren’t we getting a little carried away here? I mean, these people only have my first name (and it’s not like my name is Ambrosia or something weird) and a cell phone number. Ya can’t Google me with either- go ahead, try- and even if you had my last name or web site address (which has my physical address on it and, no, I’m NOT taking that down!), finding me isn’t as simple as looking for the nearest Wal-Mart. I mean, these people couldn’t teach a puppy her own name, and we’re worried they’re gonna sleuth out my address through web research?

And then let’s say they DID find me and the dog. Madison barely lets the pizza guy in (we have to wave the box under her nose, hold her collar, and promise her ALL the crusts and her own beer), has scared off prowlers in her lifetime, and won’t let strangers within ten feet of me. I really, really, REALLY don’t think she’s gonna let some crazy lady near enough to me to hurt me.

So I think everyone’s a little too uptight, but they aren’t my dogs and aren’t gonna be, so I go along. Plus, the idea of taking the baby gate down and not having newspapers down REALLY appeals to me (hey, I have no bathroom right now- it just isn’t right that the dog can piss in the house and I can’t).

So I pick both dogs up from their foster homes this morning and take them to the vet (only for a canine do I wake at 7 a.m.), because DARE paying a vet bill will apparently legally establish ownership. Both dogs have hookworm (which people can get but only if you roll in infected dog shit) and whipworm. I now have to get my dogs checked for whipworms (heartworm medicine prevents hookworms but not the other), and so do the other two foster homes. If my dogs test positive, Gri-Gri and my parents’ dog will have to get tested as well. Both parasites are fatal to dogs (if untreated).

Tell me again why this woman thinks she deserves these dogs?

I gotta go across town and take a shower. As long as I don’t run into Ace Ventura along the way, I guess I’m safe.

Living the dream, continued

Never make decisions when you’re under stress.

…And why the hell not? Here’s the update on “the dream”.

I can probably sell the house for $250k; over $100 more than I paid for it. Sounds great, right? I thought so, too, but if I hold on to it for another year, supposedly I could get another $50k for it. I’ve been vascillating back and forth all week, rendered powerless by what people tell me is the “right” thing to do (hold on to it, sell it in a year, make good money) and what I want to do- GET THE HELL OUT, sell it now, and get another place.

Tenants have power on in their name (I’m assuming, it’s on and I’m not getting a bill, that’s all I care about) and are all up-to-date with their money. So that’s something. Of course, they’re still here, which I’m gonna have to get over. Having people on your property seems to be an immutable aspect of being a landlord. Sigh.

I want to live on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean or the south Pacific. Why can’t I sell the place, buy a nice boat, and just take off?

Well, for one, I’m not really that proficient a sailor. As in I’ve really only sailed little bitty things and always with help.
I also don’t think my birds would take well to sailboat living. Ok, let me re-state that: I don’t think I would deal well living with two parrots on a sailboat.

There are a few other reasons, but I guess if I really wanted to go I’d be gone by now, huh?

So where does that leave me today? Avoiding work- I have three advertorials to write, one of which deals with holistic healing, another with flan (I HATE flan), and a third about a local restaurant where the owners are great but the food sucks. Not just bad food; people I know have gotten ill off their signature item. Beer’s cheap, though. Maybe I can focus on that. Advertorials aren’t really lying, they’re just… creative truth manipulation.

It leaves me with Cap’n (new dog addition, short for Captain Ronrico), Madison (sweetest dog in the world… as long as you’re not another dog), Zoey, the pissing wonder, and two birds- one bald, one perfect plumaged.

In case you’re still wondering, yes, I am still peeing outside and showering at Tom’s house. I miss having a house that had all the luxuries of, oh, a toilet. I wonder if I could use the puppy’s housebreaking pads? Funny, isn’t it, that I can live in a broom closet and not complain (ok, about THAT), don’t mind sharing aforementioned closet with three dogs, two birds, and fish, but fantasize about having a toilet. Ok, let’s be honest: I don’t so much care about the toilet part, it’s the part that involves the mess at the end of every day when my dad, a slightly dysfunctional Bob Villa, leaves every day. Ever notice that This Old House and all the shows on HGTV NEVER show people tracking mud over sisal rugs or the homeowner weeping softly as she tries to get tar off her hardwood floors? They also don’t air the footage of the homeowner arguing with her workmen (ok, my dad) over the way they talk to her. They CERTAINLY don’t show the fight where the guy re-plumbing the bathroom tells the homeowner that if she doesn’t like the way he’s talking to her, she can leave.

Yup, that’s been the highlight so far. My dad tried to kick me out of my own house ’cause I told him to stop yelling at me. No, you say, you? Fight with your dad? Why, that’s simply unheard of. Yeah, I know, you guys all think my dad’s great and a million laughs and all that. And, yes, I love my dad, he is pretty wonderful. He, as Tom points out, is redoing my bathroom for me. For free. All true. It’s just… well, put us together for too long (over an hour, most days), and we’re like too many women (or rats) in a small room. It gets ugly.

In the midst of all joys of home ownership, I brought Zoey down to the “Adopt-a-thon” in Manatee yesterday. On the way back, her old owner called me and wanted both puppies back. Note to self: NEVER answer phone to talk to someone who has given up dog when I’ve just left a convention hall filled with unwanted dogs. She questioned why DARE split them up, and I explained to her that at six months, they weren’t housebroken, didn’t know their own names, and paid more attention to each other than people, therefore I suggested DARE split them up to better facilitate training. She then got a little huffy and said, “well, didn’t I take good care of them?” Absolutely the wrong question to ask. I paused, then said, “well, you had them for five months, didn’t housebreak them, they didn’t know their names, and they had ticks on them when they arrived.”

This is why I hate people (you guys excluded, of course). She actually said, “so they had a few ticks, so what?”

“Have YOU ever had a tick on you?” (Ooh, the mature argument. This is why I wasn’t on the debate team in high school.)

Ok, at this point I should have hung up. I don’t know why I didn’t. I think I actually wanted her to feel bad (see, I’m NOT a nice person). Instead, she said yes, and I explained that dogs CAN’T get take care of themselves and they depended on her, and no, in my mind, she DIDN’T take good care of them and my recommendation to DARE based on the condition of the dogs when I received them would be that she NOT get the dogs. She tried to defend the ticks by saying that “that girl” (meaning the DARE rep south of the skyway) MADE them take other dogs.

Oh, so you have no control over your own actions and you want two puppies? Go to hell, bitch, I’m amazed you were allowed to have kids.

Of course, my next call was to Bev at DARE to warn her that I had just had a little spat, and oh, yes, the woman has her number. She was remarkably good-natured about it, but maybe she just can’t stand to lose another volunteer foster home. Also, I think she sees my point.

What else? Oh, yes, here’s the latest addition to the Enchanted Tiki Room, Cap’n. He and Mad Dog… let’s just say that they’re never late with the rent, don’t give me any lip, and love me unconditionally, even when I give mad Dog ear medicine.

You, too, can live the dream

Mardi’s upset I haven’t made a blog entry in a while. Well, here’s my latest. You can thank her if it doesn’t fill you with sunshine and joy.

Diane’s no longer with The Gabber (seems the editor wants writers who, oh, I don’t know, occasionally write things for him) and I’ve been trying to cover everything until they get a new person on board and up to speed, plus I’ve started doing PR for the Art Village (my penance a shitty past life, trust me, PR work is NOT my favorite thing) and a new client, Southwinds Sailing, that I haven’t even gotten around to writing for yet, wouldn’t be shocked if he’s written me off as another flaky writer by now… trying to work on this house (which, by the way, I’ve taken to referring to as Dante’s 9th level of hell), convince my tenants it really isn’t in their best interests to -no shit- live without power (I haven’t actually talked to them yet, so this is largely mental angst on my part, I freely admit)…yes, that’s right, on top of them not yet paying rent (it was due Saturday), the Three Stooges (and I mean that kindly) can’t seem to come up with money for the Progress Energy deposit (I got sick of them ruining my credit with late payments and told them when the new lease took effect they’d have to get power in their name)… poor guys, I mean, they only had a month and a half to get it set up… my dad’s remodeling my bathroom so I’m peeing outside (do NOT laugh) unless I’m showering at Tom’s house (thank god one of us has a fully functional house, poor guy, every time he sees me lately I’m there to shower and bum food, gonna start dropping off pillowcases of dirty laundry for giggles)… I have two foster dogs for Dachshund Rescue right now, other foster home told me (after I had the dogs in my car, of course) they would have loved to keep them if only they were housebroken… and oh, yes, I’m supposed to be doing sound for the new musical in Gulfport. It’s about a Muslim and a Jewish person in love in NYC right after 9-11 (oh, good, a cheerful little number… anyone ever see the Producers?)…Jesus, let’s see, how much can I possibly heap on before I end up mixing margaritas instead of making coffee in the morning? At least I’m not shooting heroin into my eyeballs yet (I’m a real wimp about needles).

The dream: I quit the freakshow of a government job so I could be my own boss, work in my pajamas, and write on the beach.
The reality: I have, at any given time, no less than four bosses. I DO work in my pajamas, although usually because I don’t change out of them before the calls and e-mails start coming every morning. As for writing on the beach? It’s been thirty fucking degrees here for as long as I can remember, and now that it’s starting to warm up, I’m too tired to drag my ass to the beach and write.

Someone either send me a plane ticket to Tahiti (one way is all I need, thank you), figure out a way to e-mail me a Margaritaville Margarita, sans everything but the tequila, sour mix (just a splash), and lime, or send me something funny as hell before I start making news, not reporting it.

If anyone needs me I’ll just be preserving my liver and periodically wiping the spittle from the corner of my mouth. This is how Hemingway got started, I just know it.

My brief career as a model

My mother tells me she’s not worried about the calendar.
Of course, she hasn’t actually SEEN it yet. Here’s her e-mail:

The theatre ladies wanted to know if Daddy and I knew about your “Ms.
October” escapade? If we didn’t know, were they going to hide all the calendars before this afternoon’s show?
Tell them we’ve seen you naked, covered with poop. Tell them we’ve gotten through your age 13-18 years without having heart attacks. Tell them we’ve been through at least a dozen of your “Don’t worry, everything will be fine” issues. Tell them we’ve been through more things than they could imagine. Tell them we worry about bird feces causing cancer, fish not getting fed, Madison missing us, your driving anywhere, freezers not getting defrosted and burning out the motor on your refrigerator, taxes not getting filed, Madison not getting shots, appointments for Ruiz and allergy shots, the sink in the shower. The list goes on and on and on and on. The calendar worrycomes after these.

Anyway, we have Richard and Pat Nixon masks for the theatre so no one will recognize us.

The Other Woman

For almost a year, I was the other woman.
I didn’t feel like the other woman. If you knew me, you wouldn’t think of me as the type. I had a husband, house in the suburbs, college degree, and a Dalmatian. I grew up in a home unbroken by divorce; I was never abused, sexually or otherwise, by any family members. My father and I have an excellent relationship. I have no more self-confidence issues than anyone else I know; I may actually have less. My IQ falls somewhere slightly above the “genius” level, and I’ve worked steadily in my chosen field since before I graduated from college. I have kept a small but close circle of male and female friends since high school. Before I had an affair, I could boast that I had never cheated on a boyfriend or stolen someone else’s. The thrill of an affair held no appeal to me.
But I fell in love with a married man anyway. Apparently, I AM the type. My only defense? It was an accident; I never saw it coming.
In a scenario similar to what you may read in Ann Landers, I fell in love with a man I worked with. Before we got –ahem- intimate, we couldn’t stand the sight of each other. A palpable animosity colored every project we worked on together. Many nights I would come home furious at something he had done or unable to sleep because we’d exchanged nasty words. Only later did I see the irony of how much time I spent thinking about him. It also never struck me as odd that fighting with him bothered me more than fighting with my husband. Hate and love, I’ve heard, are two sides of the same coin and it’s a short journey from one to the other. In our case, we went from hate to tolerance to a business trip.
A little wine and some time alone proved enough on that trip. The details matter greatly to me but probably not much to you. After a few days of working together at a conference, we found ourselves sitting across from each other, talking as friends, not merely coworkers who grudgingly accepted we were stuck with each other for the weekend. It hit me out of nowhere: I wanted this man with a wild passion completely foreign to me.
The next night we admitted our mutual attraction. We both told each other we had good marriages and didn’t want to have an affair. Nonetheless, I had this crazy idea that if he kissed me, I could get him out of my system. I reasoned that it was better to cheat with a kiss that broke the illusion than with unfulfilled fantasies playing themselves out over and over in my head. I rationalized the idea of kissing him, telling myself it would hurt me less to find out my husband had kissed or even made love to someone than it would to hear he had fallen in love with someone else.
So I kissed him, although who kissed who doesn’t matter. He would have kissed me if I hadn’t. We didn’t have sex that night; a decision I made not on lofty moral grounds but rather on practical ones- I had my period. I didn’t know If he liked me that much.
From the moment we kissed, I stepped onto a roller coaster ride unparalleled by anything at Six Flags. Anyone who’s ever loved someone they shouldn’t knows what happened next- lunches, moments before work, stolen kisses in a storage room. But even though I had the hottest sex of my life in the back of his minivan, it only scratched the surface of everything that made the deceit worth the aftermath. I felt alive with him, felt like I could do anything, go anywhere, as long as I had this one amazing person by my side who believed in me, who saw the real me and liked me more because of who I was.
Almost four months after that fateful business trip, I told my husband I had fallen in love with someone else. He called my father, kicked me out, and showed up at my job the next morning to confront the object of my affection.
None of it mattered- my husband’s agony, the looks I got from coworkers, my parents unrelenting shock at my behavior- I was in love. He loved me. It would all work out.
Four months after I left my husband, he had left his wife. Twice. And gone back. Twice. Every time he left, my heart soared. Each time he went back, I felt the bottom fall out of my stomach. He quit his job, not the least of his reasons to try and make his marriage work out without seeing me every day. Within a month, I had quit- ushered out by a boss eager to have him there instead of me. He did not go back.
His efforts not to see me failed supremely. About once a month, his guilt would mount and he would end things. Not once did I call him, e-mail him, or try to see him; I would not, I resolved, turn into one of those desperate, needy women. He always came back. In the midst of a divorce- and not a pleasant one- I was willing stay on the ride a while longer. I couldn’t change how I felt, regardless of what I did.
I know the therap-ese explanations for why women take up with married men; he didn’t appeal to me because he was “forbidden”. He appealed to me because I had fallen in love with someone who saw me, the me I felt I was inside, not what the rest of the world saw. It was ok to be me, he would say. Do you think after all this time I don’t know you?
With the enormity of his love behind me, I saw my life for the first time with unvarnished perspective and relentless honesty. Once I accepted who and where I was, I could change what I didn’t like. I realized that I had married someone I wasn’t in love with, had settled for a job and lifestyle that everyone seemed to think I should have but I didn’t want, and had started to replace the experience of living with the temporary gratification of things. Had I not fallen in love with him, I believe I would still be there. I felt alive; I wanted a life that would let me keep living.
As I fell in love with him, I remembered my long-ago self: a teenager with a passion for life. I had found her again. I took SCUBA diving lessons, became a freelance writer, moved to a little beach town, and learned to rely on my gut instead of what other people said I should do.
With both of us freelancing for a living, we now filled our days with bike rides, trips to the beach, windsurfing, and each other. At night, when he went home to his wife, I would write, see my friends, and fantasize about our life together. Because I knew he would leave; there was no way he and I would not grow old together, probably on a boat or on an island somewhere. I just had to be patient.
One night, exactly eleven months and two weeks after that business trip, he called me; he had told his wife that despite his best intentions he couldn’t seem to stop seeing me. He had to get his marriage worked out. We couldn’t see each other anymore. As we hung up, I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. I choked out a “’Night” and hung up the phone, not waiting for his response. I couldn’t bear to hear him tell me goodbye.
For the next few days, I waited for a phone call or e-mail that never came. I checked his web site for some sign he was thinking of, missing me. I stopped eating. I cried. I screamed. I took cold medicine just to sleep and get some relief from the pain in my gut. My dog and my downstairs neighbor were the only living creatures I saw. My dog licked my face when I cried and wouldn’t let me out of her sight; my neighbor force-fed me pork chops and homemade mashed potatoes.
He did not call. He did not e-mail me. After four years of working with him and one year of loving him, he had simply vanished from my life.
But he said he loved me, screamed a voice in my head.
You knew he was married. What did you expect? Scolded another.
While I don’t suggest an affair as a way to bolster your self-esteem or win friends, it will show you who your friends are. It surprised me; people I thought would support me no matter what turned on me with vehemence that left me speechless. I didn’t need or want kudos for my behavior; I held no illusions about the morality of my actions. What I did want was the same thing I would have given them: an opinion only when asked and knowledge that they loved me no matter what I did. Worrying that a friend will get hurt is one thing; berating them for their choices is another.
People I had thought of as friends had all kinds of judgment for me. I didn’t want to hear it; I knew from the start messing around with a married man was stupid and falling in love with him worse. But the surprise went both ways- a coworker I thought would give me an earful turned out as my biggest source of support. To this day, she remains one of the few people I would gladly empty my bank account for. When it all crashed down, she called me every day, sometimes two or three times, I think just to make sure I was still breathing.
And I did. In less than eight months, I had lost a husband, a house, a job, and several friends. Then I lost him. And I kept sucking breath in and pushing it out again. Slowly, I started getting on with my life.
After the initial pain subsided, my life after my affair has been the happiest time of my adult life. Before the bizarre carnival ride I was on screeched to a halt, I told people who asked that if it all ended at that very moment it would be worth it, and never once did I waver from that. How could I ever want to trade what I gained for a different path, even one that didn’t tear me apart? I found this amazing love and, more importantly, I found the strength to be myself.
That one thing was worth the ride.

Hurricane Reconnaissance

If it’s not a phrase, it should be. Maybe not the most appropriate one, but I’ve grown to despise the tired phrase “hurricane preparedness”.
My Thursday began with an early morning phone call –in my world, “early” means anything before 10 a.m. – from the Advertising Air Force. You know, the banner planes that wiggle along the beaches touting “Get Your Ass To The Pass” and “Chubby’s- World’s Best Burgers”. Seems they were worried that the planes, tied down in a field at Whitted, could blow over if either Bonnie or Charley hit. Could Tom come help move the planes into the hangars? As a member of the media, I have an almost frenetic fascination with how easily people scurry about at the direction of a talking head. Fascination wins out over fatigue, and I go along for the ride.
Next Tom’s sister Cheryl calls from Mad Beach, wondering if he can help secure the three sailboats behind her house.
So we clear out the hangar, Tom and the other pilot taxi the planes into the hangar, where we then try to make a pickup truck, banner transport van, and –don’t ask- a limousine fit next to fifty foot long and seven foot tall banners. Henry, a relatively recent transplant from Canada, tries to decide what to think about the weather. He seems torn between his everyone else’s borderline panic and my and Tom’s “the media loves a good story and this is it” attitudes.
As we leave the airport, I get a call from my mother. When it gets windy I should make sure our dachshund puppy ONLY goes out on a leash lest he blow away in the gale. Do we have enough water?
Cheryl’s backyard teems with sailors; three cherished sailboats and two hurricanes have driven all else from their minds. Cheryl’s friend Donna watches Bay News 9, reporting periodically “the winds are over 90 miles an hour” and “they’re gonna probably close the bridges soon”.
The empty house next door has logs piled up on a dock that looks like something out of Captain Ron. Next week the dock reconstruction starts, but only if the logs don’t launch themselves at Cheryl’s boat tomorrow. The water reaches my chest and we have plenty of line. We push the wood in the water and Tom lashes them together a la “Escape From Gilligan’s Island”. The puppy has yet to blow away in the as-of-yet-nonexistent winds and has a great time birling on the logs while we work.
The first casualty of “Bonnie and Clyde” hits when I try to get back on the dock. The right way to do this involves swimming around to where the water comes almost to the dock. I, of course, don’t do this the right way. Instead, I decide to use a large barnacle to briefly support my left foot while I hoist myself up to the floating logs and climb out.
Hurricane readiness was temporarily abandoned while Sue gets the first aid kit and Cheryl gets the peroxide.
Once the boats have enough lines on them to double as a prop in the next Spiderman movie, Tom drops me off to do an interview for next week’s issue while he gets some food.
My interview, inside Boca Ciega Center, will have to wait. The nursing home, anticipating patients from an evacuated nursing home, has cleared out part of their great room and has nurses and aids scurrying about. I get a few photos, chat with the Trib reporter about the storm, and head home.
Tom has done his part to prepare for the storm; he put gas in my car and gotten hamburger meat, Neosporin, red wine, and chips. He sits down to work on Reef Dog’s web site while I look on the Internet Movie Database for some good movies to rent. Putting our heads together, we come up with a good list of Florida hurricane movies:
Sunshine State
Gone Fishin’
Forces of Nature
The Deep
Kon-Tiki
Curse of the Erotic Tiki
Blockbuster has men working outside to board up their windows. Luckily, they haven’t closed yet. Unluckily, the Pasadena Blockbuster has only three of our movies. We head to Wal-Greens, where I buy gauze. I also succumb to “hurricane fever” and stock up on Starbucks Mocha Frappucino- just in case. On the way home, I snap a few photos of boarded up shops downtown just in case Ken wants to use them in a story.
Hurricane reconnaissance complete, we order a white cheese pizza, mix up some sangria, and settle in with Forces of Nature. We fall asleep on the couch while Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck frolic at South of the Border.
Bonnie never materialized. Charley… well, Charley actually made to shore. Just not here. In blatant disrespect for the law, we did not evacuate. Neither, it seems, did most of our neighbors. We did not tape our windows, we did not buy gallons of water.
The short version? The breeze felt good, I have perfected the perfect pitcher of sangria, and our windows don’t have sticky gunk all over them. The dogs did not blow away. The mobile home residents in Punta Gorda didn’t have the same luck.
I guess I’ve gotten jaded from the perpetual media hurricane blitz. It also helps that we canceled Direct TV and listen to iPods instead of the radio. Any weather news came from noaa.gov or weather.com; when you don’t hear bulletins every nine minutes suggesting that “this could be the big one”, it’s hard to get whipped into a frenzy. Yup, it was a big-assed storm. We did prepare- we bungeed the lids to our garbage cans and we moved the patio furniture to safety. But the storm, on NOAA’s web site Friday morning, didn’t look that bad, as hurricanes go. By the time I knew Charley had turned into a category four it had also turned, so I never really worried.
And you know what? I had fun. We watched movies, ate pizza, and got a day off from work. I loved it. When people called us from out of town, worried, we repeated our hurricane mantra: turn the TV OFF. I do understand securing boats, but not much else about this “hurricane fever.”
Just for fun, let’s say we did have a category four or five bearing down on us; then what? We may have stayed with my parents up-county, but probably not done too much else. I don’t honestly believe tape on windows does a bit of good when a real storm hits; after all, what good are windows when you don’t have a roof?
And- I know it’s not a popular sentiment (at least, not one most admit to)- I would love to see how the beaches look without all the t-shirt shops and McMansions, although most of the Punta Gorda damage involved boats and (surprise!) mobile homes. If my house offends nature by its location, then so be it. Maybe I need to live somewhere else.
Of course, we’ll see how I feel when we do get “the big one”. I may be out there with everyone else, fighting over plywood and frappucinos.

I work at the mall

I work at the mall.

Years ago, my grandparents would take me shopping another mall similar to this one on a regular basis. Actually, my grandmother would take me shopping. My grandfather would sit on a white plastic bench and people-watch while my grandmother and I looked for jeans in Sears or bras in Penney’s. As the only child of their only child, my retired grandparents had endless hours to spend with me. After my grandmother and I found a few outfits that made us happy and would certainly upset my mother almost enough to make us return them, my grandparents and I went to lunch.

If it was Wednesday, we went to Denny’s so my grandmother could order their cheese soup. Other days, we’d go to a breakfast diner or a cafeteria at the mall. I don’t remember what we ate; I remember feeling big and grown-up, with my grandmother asking what I thought of the Iran-Contra hearings or the President’s part in the scandal. When I didn’t know – which was often, as at eleven I preferred Judy Blume to the St. Petersburg Times – my grandmother never made me feel stupid. Instead, I got to hear what she thought and learned the importance of understanding whatever I believed.

Sometimes I would spend the night at my grandparent’s apartment. Usually I would stay over on a Saturday night, which meant I got to watch not only The Love Boat but Fantasy Island as well. My grandfather would surrender his half of their king-sized bed, and my grandmother and I would lie on our stomachs, our heads where our feet should have gone, watching TV and eating the corn toastees my grandfather made me. He had a special way of making them, toasting them halfway, then adding butter and putting them back in the toaster. He would bring them in to me with a glass of pink lemonade and let me eat them in bed. When I finished, he would take my plate to the sink, watch TJ Hooker, and fall asleep on the couch.

My grandfather never said nearly as much as my grandmother. He called me “Kit Kat” and bought me rings and necklaces he would find at garage sales. My mother and grandmother would scold him for buying “junk”, which I never understood. The tiger-eye bracelet, the mood ring, and countless other baubles became treasures that reinforced my understanding of my grandfather’s love, not flashy and obvious, but always there and waiting for me to see their beauty.

As I grew older those shopping sprees grew increasingly less frequent, as did the sleepovers. I moved away to finish my last two years of college. I talked to my grandmother on the phone once a week. When I would come home, my grandfather would hug me, and before I left, he would always- always- say, “Don’t be a stranger…Come over more…Let us know if you need money.”

Just over two years ago, my grandfather died.

No one that close to me had ever died before; my experience with dying was limited to great-grandparents, a friend’s mother, and a college theatre professor. People I knew and missed had died, but others could, not completely and not in the same way, fill the void they left.

I didn’t grieve when my father told me my grandfather had died. He had been very ill and, in some ways, his death was a relief. I didn’t throw myself on the bed and sob, didn’t call in sick to work, didn’t wear black. I felt bad, of course, but mostly I felt numb. That night I stayed up until 4 a.m., scrubbed my terrazzo floors on my hands and knees, and starched every piece of clothing in the house. I did not cry.

About a year later I was at the mall on my lunch break and an old man smiled at me. He was on one of those white plastic benches with his cane lying next to him. All of a sudden my chest just emptied out and I realized: I would never come out of store and see my grandfather dozing, waiting, on a bench again. I would never go up to him, throw my arms around his neck, and tell him I loved him. I couldn’t return to my college dorm, pick up the phone, and tell him I was thinking about him, tell him how much his quiet love had meant to me. I wanted desperately to go back 15 years, when I had more opportunities – missed opportunities – and talk to him, look at him, tell him how happy it made me to spend a few hours in his company.

As an 11-year-old, I couldn’t see the things that led him to the white plastic bench: growing up with only one toy because his parents had no money, going off to war at 31, or supporting a family on whatever job paid the best, not necessarily what he loved the most. I didn’t understand or appreciate the sacrifices he made, perhaps because he never treated them as such. He taught himself to read and write and figured out how to earn a living without the benefit of a high school diploma, then spent the rest of his life doing exactly that. His reward, his greatest joy, was spending time with his family, even if years of manual labor had ruined his knee and he couldn’t walk through the mall with them. The closest he could get was waiting for them on a bench because his granddaughter wanted to window shop. I always thought he came with us because he had nothing better to do. On my lunch break, looking at this stranger’s wrinkled face, I saw in it what I missed in my grandfather’s: he just wanted to be near us.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot make corn toastees that taste like my grandfather’s. Grown up and married, I live less than a mile from my parents and grandmother. My husband and I sleep in the king-sized bed my grandmother gave us when she moved in with my parents last year. The mall we went to got torn down last year, and the Denny’s we lunched at gave way to an auto body shop three years ago. Thanks to my grandmother, I have grown into a fine liberal. Thanks to my grandfather, a small trinket from my husband means more to me than roses or jewelry ever could. In our house, reruns of The Love Boat take priority over anything else on television. I love my grandmother and cherish my memories of my grandfather. I have a full life and have learned not to cry for what I have lost.

Except when I walk through the mall on my lunch hour and see an old man sitting on a white bench, waiting for his wife and, perhaps, his young granddaughter.