Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I'm morbid

I confess. I read the obituaries every day. I hate it when people who read them daily say that they do so to ensure that they are not amongst those listed, and that's not why I do it. I do it because I have to. I've done this for as long as I can remember and, sometimes, I am very covert about indulging this little perversion when I am around others. I've even been in relationships (some long-ish term) with folks who never knew that I did this. I feel so sneaky.

In fact, this is how I found out that my friend, E, died about four years ago. I was just scanning the daily obit index, just like always, and there was her name - EVC. I even recall the initial feeling of disbelief - instead of looking at her name and thinking to myself Oh fuck. E died., it was more like Oh, that's weird. Someone with the exact same name as E died. Part of the denial step in the mourning process? Hell if I know. The obit itself was brief. Nobody had paid for the inclusion of a lovingly-written ode, complete with a smiling photo and a lengthy list of survivors - all named. Nope, just brief and to the point. Although the text never said as much, I knew instantly that she'd committed suicide.

I often notice the last names of folks with whom I went to high school. Most of the time, as I can tell by seeing their first name listed as a survivor, it's one of their parents. Other times I conclude that it must be a grandparent. It feels oddly intrusive and even too personal to be in the know with something like this.

About a month ago I saw the name of a fellow from high school. I didn't really know him in high school and I'm not even certain that I ever spoke to him. I remembered that he played football, that he was pretty large, his hair was blond and he was quiet and reserved. I don't really recall seeing him hanging out with anyone - he might have even been something of a loner...don't recall for sure. He worked as a construction worker and died at age 40, of sleep apnea. His survivors included both parents and a brother. I wondered if he died alone. I mean, really alone. I felt oddly sad for him when I read this.

I began to wonder what would happen if I died. Who would write my obituary and what would it say? Would my survivors pony up the dough for a lengthier and more personalized tribute? Would they include a photo of me and, if so, at what age? And who would see it? Would anyone from my past see my name and perhaps my photo and think of me - perhaps a thought with a memory attached? What about people who knew of me, but who never spoke to me, like people from high school for example?

My fascination doesn't end with the daily obits, though. Some five years ago or so, my friend, L, turned me on to Celebrity Death Beeper. CDB sends out a mass email blast to all of its subscribers whenever someone of note has passed away. And they are FAST. Seriously, it's as if they monitor the news wires constantly and report on a death as fast as any of the more reputable news providers. I swear I found out about the death of Anna Nicole Smith mere minutes after her passing.

In fact, CDB is how I learned of Julia Child's death. I was in Seattle, just beginning Librarian Action Figure School and saw that I had an email from CDB. Seeing Julia Child's name listed put me in a melancholy place. Since I was finished with classes for the day, I walked down to the local pub and put back a few in her honor. I thought of the joy that watching her cooking show brought me - remembering her adding more butter, dropping food on the ground and (in conjunction with the 10-second rule) throwing it back into the mix, sipping off of some sort of libation while cooking. I remembered her distinct voice, which made me laugh when I was a child. I remembered when my friend, David, met her ("She was tall," he said). I remembered when my friend David dreamed about her over Thanksgiving weekend. I miss my friend, David (who is still amongst the living - he just lives far away now).

And I miss Julia Child.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Raise your hand if you love your boobs!

You know how sometimes you stretch your upper body skyward, especially when you're sitting on the couch leaning backward over the curved arm and rockin' a nice curved arch in your back? And then you're feeling an awesome stretch in the top part of your chest so you pull your arms back down to place your hands on your chest, just above your fabulous titties, with your back remaining arched, and you feel the muscles in your chest stretching? And then you feel the lump on your right side where once there wasn't a lump?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

At first I thought I was imagining it, how could I possibly have a lump on my breast? I felt up my right side and then my left. And then I did it again. I did the tapping/kneading thing with my fingers that the doctor always does. I placed each hand exactly symmetrical from one another, making sure that they were in the exact same spot on each side, just to make sure that I was comparing an apple with an apple and an orange with an orange - well, or something like that.

Isn't it said that the definition of insane is 'doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result?'

I pulled my shirt off to make sure I was covering the area thoroughly. Holy shit, I could see the lump! That wasn't there last month.

Maybe I just pulled a muscle in yoga class. Or maybe my muscles on my right side had strengthened differently than those on my left. I am right handed, after all, and I carry cases of wine up and down flights of stairs at work.

"J, come take a look at this," I beckoned my lovely wife to come and check out my titties.

"Shit. What the fuck?"

"I know! What do you think I should do?" (Okay, I know this sounds completely idiotic now, but it was just what came out of my mouth at the time).

"Um, you need to call the doctor. And you can't procrastinate this one - I know you hate doctors, but this could be serious. Will you do it today?" I told her I would.

But when I called my doctor's office, they freaked my shit out even more. After telling me that they want to see me within three days, they told me that my doctor was on vacation and I'd have to see a different doctor. Have I mentioned that I hate doctors? Since the urgency of this visit was non-negotiable, I conceded to a visit with a different doctor, provided it was a female. Then the nurse on the phone asked me to describe the lump.

"Well, it's above my breast and it's slightly elevated." Apparently this was an inadequate answer, because she seemed a little bit exasperated and asked me how big it was.

"Um, I'm not really sure. You mean you want me to measure it?" Alright, I'm really not this dumb, but somehow idiotic things kept coming out of my mouth that day. I think the nurse thought I was being an ass, because it seemed like she was losing patience with me.

"Is it the size of a marble? or a golf ball? or an orange?" Now here I was really perplexed - it was supposed to be globe-shaped? Mine was more akin to the pit of a mango.

"I guess it's about one inch wide by about two or so inches long. It doesn't really resemble any of the objects you mentioned."

"Is there any blood or pus coming from the area?"

"No." Suddenly I was feeling like I was crying wolf, but I had a lapdog on my hands. My stats just weren't measuring up to her expectations. She scheduled me an appointment for a couple of days later.

I was a nervous wreck for those two days.

In the meantime, I accompanied J to an OB/Gyn visit the following day - we needed a greenlight in our efforts to become pregnant. I was caught by surprise when I encountered a lump in my throat while J was having a breast exam. That throat-lump was in between the size of a marble and the size of a golf ball. Was I envious of her lumpless breasts? Were the possible ramifications of my pending visit just hitting me? I was scared.

I asked J to come with me to my visit with the-doctor-who-wasn't-mine.

In walked a stereotypically attractive 30-something woman who didn't smile and spoke very quietly. She seemed like she was strung out on Valium. She seemed apprehensive about touching my breasts and her hands were a little bit cold - not unlike her demeanor. She seemed unconcerned and suggested that the lump was a result of too much coffee or too much stress and that it would probably go away after I had my period. She told me to set up an appointment with my regular doc for three weeks later.

It was a long-ass three weeks before I showed up at Kaiser for my appointment with my usual doc, who isn't afraid to touch lesbian breasts.

"Oh, you didn't get the message?" the receptionist asked me.


"We called you yesterday and left you a message that Dr. D had an emergency and had to cancel all of her appointments for today."

"Oh. May I reschedule?"

"Sure, let's see...Dr. D can see you in February of 2008 - what time is good for you?" Okay, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but she wasn't able to get me in that week. Or the next. The receptionist was able to get me in the next morning with a nurse practitioner, Maggie Bunn. Now, I don't know why I have an issue with nurse practitioners - K sees an NP and she's awesome, better than most docs I've been to...I guess I worry that they might not catch something a doc would catch or that their medical advice might not be as thorough or accurate. This has never been my experience - I have no idea where I acquired this bias. I guess I watch too much ER or something.

Maggie Bunn turned out to be fantastic. She was gentle and comfortable with me and very forthcoming. She told me that my lump had the qualities of being benign, but she wanted to be absolutely certain and had me set up an appointment with mammography and one with a breast surgeon. As she gave me the contact info for both departments, she gave me some additional info, off the record.

"When you make an appointment with the breast surgeon, be sure to insist on the woman doctor - she's wonderful. There is also a man and, well, he's extremely arrogant and all I can really say is that I strongly urge you to see the woman, Dr. Xy - even if you have to wait longer for an appointment."

I got the picture.

When I called for my appointment with Dr. Xy, the receptionist told me that she could get me in sooner with Dr. Xx. I told her no, that I was much more comfortable with a woman doctor and that I didn't mind waiting longer to see Dr. Xy.

"Dr. Xx is a really good doctor - he'll be gentle." The receptionist was really jonesin' for me to concede. I wouldn't.

"No, I'd really prefer to see Dr. Xy." Was this chick gonna power-struggle with me?

"Well, may I ask why?" Now, obviously I wasn't going to tell her that Maggie Bunn told me to insist on Dr. Xy. But, man, this woman was relentless. I decided to go for a lighthearted angle.

"You see, it's like this: I wouldn't take my car to a mechanic who's never owned a car before..." This is my stock explanation for those who ask why I insist on a female gynecologist.

"Dr. Xx has a wife and a daughter and a mother and they all have breasts." OMG, did she really just say that? "He knows what he's doing and he's a really good doctor."

Well, shit. Then why is she trying to coerce me to schedule an appointment with him, rather than honoring my first choice?

"Look," she didn't know this, but she picked the wrong chick to intimidate, "I was sexually assaulted by a man. I do NOT want a man touching my breasts. Can you please respect that and make an appointment with Dr. Xy, as I originally requested?"

She couldn't argue with that. I couldn't believe I'd just said that out loud. And to a complete stranger. At least I got her to stop goading me.

Before my scheduled appointment with Dr. Xy, I was required to have a mammogram. The tech who was in charge of squishing the hell out of my boobs was very cool - she chatted me up and complimented me on my tattoos. The doctor who reviewed my mammography pics concluded that I should have an ultrasound. The ultrasound tech was somehow under the impression that I was a complete idiot and condescendingly informed me that, "most women don't know this, but breasts are asymmetrical."

"Yeah, thanks, I knew that." Was I supposed to, upon noticing that I had a lump, just look down and remind myself that bodies are assymmetrical and go on with my business? Again, I was made to feel as though I were making a mountain out of a molehill.

"Well, it looks like you just have a benign mass of tissue here. Nothing to worry about. I'll have the doctor come in here and talk with you."

Five minutes later, a woman in a white coat breezed into the room. "Hi, I'm Dr. Zippy. All I see here is a benign mass of tissue. Do you have any questions?"

She took my silence to mean 'no' and bid me farewell. She was in and out in less than a minute.

So it appears that I do not have breast cancer. I'll continue my monthly self-exams and throw in the occasional couch-arm stretch for good measure. I don't like that the medical media scares the bejeezus out of women, urging them to worry the second anything seems amiss with the girls. But then when we do, we're treated as though we're freaking out over nothing.

Marbles, golf balls, oranges, mango pits - they all deserve attention. And don't let anyone goad you into believing otherwise.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Divine Intervention

As you may recall, J and I were able to purchase a modest townhouse in the nether regions of lovely Portland nearly two years ago. What you may or may not know is that my malignant mother was our real estate agent. Yes, 4 realz. We really didn't have a choice - mom sells real estate and if we'd gone with another agent (which we considered), we would have put the Hatfields and the McCoys to shame.

True, mom was willing to forgo her commission (THIS time, she told us...which, I guess, means that next time - when we are more able to afford a more glamorous abode - she'll make some money off of us), although that is not the only reason we went with her. The horrid horrid aftermath of going through someone else (even someone we would have had to have paid THIS time) was far too foreboding. And so it was that mother dearest became our de facto real estate agent.

And, while mother's knowledge of Portland and its environs can barely rival that of a fifth grader (despite that she has lived in the Portland Metro area HER ENTIRE LIFE, although the last 30 or so years have been in the suburbs), we did receive excellent and attentive service from her. I presume, however, that she is like that with all of her clients, being a workaholic and all, and that we were not receiving preferential treatment (well, THIS time, anyway). She even handled it pretty well whenever she showed us a place that she seemed pretty jazzed about and wanted us to get all googly-eyed and proclaim it the one and, instead, we'd shrug our shoulders and say "meh" in unison. She didn't know what 'meh' meant, but she could tell that it meant we wouldn't be signing any papers any time soon.

Flash forward two months and over a hundred houses later (oh, the stories I could tell about some of those houses!), we stumble upon the townhouse where we now live. For our dollar (and that was pretty much what we had to spend, a dollar), this place was the shit. So we placed an offer. And it was declined. We countered. It was accepted. Yay! We were nearly homo homeowners!

But, ah, the details. We had to, of course, sign the papers. Oh sure, sounds harmless. So we sit with Mom at the title company, along with maybe three other people whose functions have escaped me, around a HUGE conference table - seriously, this thing was so huge that it could probably kick Chuck Norris' ass. So blahblahblah the peoples' mouths are moving and I nod as if I'm following (yeah, I know this is a tad irresponsible, so shoot me)...blahblahblah sign this...blahblahblah sign that. Eleventy gazillion signatures later, that snoozefest is finally taking its final bow.

And not a moment too soon. I was freakin' starving. A smiling lady hands us a glossy folder with an entire tree shoved inside. This folder remains unopened and sitting in our file cabinet. Mom confers with J and I and mentions her state of hunger. She is inviting us to dinner?

"Let's celebrate!" Mom says. Woo hoo! we are thinking, despite the fact that celebrating with Mom can be sorta hit and miss. What the hell, we decide, if Mom wants to treat us to a celebratory feast, why not let her? Mom asks if there is anything around the area that is not too expensive.

"It's not like I'm rich, you know," she reminds us, as she depresses the magic button that disables the alarm on her brand new BMW.

Mom is, of course, completely unaware of anything in the immediate vicinity, despite the fact that the school where she attended her freshman year (with classmate Sally Struthers!), was fewer than ten blocks from where we stood. No matter, we suggested a reasonably priced trattoria twenty blocks away. We tell her that it's on Broadway and on the south side of the street and to meet us there. Mom acts all confused and says that she'll follow us.

We pull aside at the stop sign while we wait for Mom to do whatever it is she does with her vanity mirror, some lipstick and an extensive evaluation period before she places her luxury vehicle into drive and proceeds. A couple of turns later, we have reached Broadway and J, who is driving, has her right turn signal on so that Mom will know that we will be heading west on Broadway. J halts at the stop sign, but is unable to see the oncoming traffic on her left, due to a large truck parked on the corner. She inches slowly out and then *$#!!BAM!!#$*. We lurch forward slightly as we come to the realization that my mother just rear-ended us. J and I look at each other, neither of us quite sure what to make of the situation.

Noticing that there are other cars behind Mom who didn't gun it when J inched out, J arm-motions Mom to pull into the parking lot of Broadway Auto Body to our immediate right. J's car shows no sign of trauma, but Mom's BMW is dented on its hood. It's the shape of an inverted crescent moon - a perfect arc. The spare tire on the the back end of J's Honda CRV is the convex match to the dent on Mom's car - a perfect yin and yang separated at birth...but not.

Mom looks astonished as she notices the damage to her precious vehicle.

"Oh there's no way that little tap did that much damage to my car," Mom's denial kicked in full speed. "I mean, you could barely feel it, right?"

Mom was in rare form.

"I mean, someone must've hit my car while we were in our meeting at the title company. That had to have been it; I mean, there's just no way."

J and I let Mom continue trying to convince herself that someone done wronged her.

"See, look at your car," Mom said to J, "there's no damage at all. If I'd hit you hard enough to cause this much damage to my car, your car would at least have a dent, right? I mean, I'm not saying it was God, really, but something, something in the universe, must've made me tap you like that so that I'd get out of my car and see the damage that was done...Otherwise I probably wouldn't have noticed it for awhile."

OMFG, you've got to be kidding me. It was so so so very hard for J and I not to burst into laughter. God???? Really? I've heard of blaming car accidents on other people before, but God? Like I said, Mom was in rare form.

Well, no need to exchange infos here, although Mom did inform us that she would call her insurance company first thing in the morning. I couldn't help but wonder if she would be explaining the part about rear-ending her daughter-in-law because God wanted her to notice that someone had hit her car while she was in a meeting.

J and I got into the restaurant before Mom found a parking place - she wanted to drive around and get a spot where nobody would hit her. Why bother? I say. With God on her side, nobody will ever be able to pull a hit-and-run over her eyes.

J and I asked our server to bring a glass of Pinot Gris right away so that Mom could begin sedating immediately. Dinner was awkward as Mom continued to practice her story about the anonymous hoodlum who hit her parked car (must've been the neighborhood) and didn't even see fit to leave a note. J and I sedated and nodded, sedated and nodded.

I didn't even know my mom believed in God.

I wonder what else she blames on God?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

what I did for love

My lovely wife, J, went with our friends, Kirsten and Jules, to see a folk singer some months back. I had to work, so I sat that one out. No worries - I think the folk music is sometimes enjoyable, but I'm not about to take the most lucrative night off from work to indulge in such a thing.

J returned home from that concert all swoony and fangirly proclaiming "a little crush" on E*l*l*i*s (***why you do t*h*a*t, Bad Kitty?) and kindly requesting that she put E*l*l*i*s on her freebie list.

"Sure," I responded, "why the hell not? But you gotta take someone else off if you want to add her."

She never told me who she removed, but I trust that she took care of this.

So when J called me a week or so ago from her morning commute at 7am (I am so NOT a morning person) to ask me if E*l*l*i*s could play a house concert in our living room, I sleepily sorta somewhat agreed to this. Later when I woke up, I was pretty sure that I hadn't dreamt the exchange.

Here's what J said:

"Hi honey! Would it be okay for E*l*l*i*s to play a concert in our living room?"

Here's what I heard:

"Hi. Would it be okay if someone I have a huge crush on, in addition to a lot of strangers, fill up our house and spill stuff on our floor?"

I somehow agreed to this.

But now I have no regrets and think that our home should serve as an acoustic concert venue on a regular basis (Yo! David Bowie! This means you.). Truly.

Of course, the night before the concert, J calls me at work (at a time that ended up being the worst possible time she could have called) and says, "Will you cook dinner for E*l*l*i*s before the show?"

"What????" What next? Can she stay in our guest room? Will I cook her breakfast as well? Can I lend her some money?

"I don't know. And actually, this is a really bad time. Can I call you back later when I'm less pissed off?"

"Okay, but Jules already said that we'd make her dinner. Call me when you're on your way home from work."

By the time I found myself driving home from work, I'd had a chance to think about this. I figured I needed to look like a rock star in order to compete with the folk star - I wanted J to remember how fabulous I am, even with E*l*l*i*s in the house. I called her up.

"Alright, I'll do it. What am I making?" Fortunately I really do enjoy cooking, so I wasn't pissed off at Jules for volunteering me for the job. Hee hee, now she owes me! Now, if David Bowie comes to my house to play a show, I'm so making Jules cook for him.

"Mushroom risotto," J tells me. Phew. That's something I could make with my hands tied behind my back and drunk to boot.

E*l*l*i*s ended up enjoying my risotto and ventured to try a fig for the first time. (I'm a huge fan of figs and, in fact, have a tattoo of a much-larger-than-actual-size cut-open fig in between my shoulder blades.) We enjoyed her company while we enjoyed small talk on our patio. She turned out to be very genuine and kind and rather charming - very easy to be around and not even a hint of diva at all.

Then the onslaught of strangers began to fill my home. They turned out to not be so bad, either. In fact, several of them were quite appreciative of our hosting of this event and of the snacks and complementary cheap wine that was provided. Nobody threw stuff on the floor (and, if they did, someone was smart enough to pick it up before I spied it). And several folks offered to help clean up. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not neurotic. Okay, well just a little. I just value my space and am something of a private person. I also have trust issues and I know that there are unsavory folks out there (especially rabid fans) and you can't tell by looking at them who is batshit crazy and who isn't.

The entire space was lit only with candles - eleventy zillion of them. It looked pretty great, actually. And peeps were very respectful of the space and of the music being provided. E*l*l*i*s sounded awesome (studio quality even! I have no idea how she pulled that off) and the entire evening was a magical success. I told E*l*l*i*s that she is welcome in our home any time and I meant it.

My lovely wife was only a little bit fangirly and goofy and did not end up hooking up with E*l*l*i*s.

I think I like folk music a little more now.

***Re: above (On account of my attempts to be picking and choosing what the Googlers might be Googling and which Googles land on my blog and which ones don't. And on account of my attempts to be remaining somewhat anonymous-ish).

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

suddenly, we're good enough?

My good 'ole neighbor, Arnie, is moonlighting. Apparently his volunteer stint at the post office was taking up an insufficient amount of his time.

As you may recall, Arnie is none too keen on the gay folk - especially when they want to obtain "special rights," such as marriage. He wears his opinion proudly on the bumper of his car, lest his lezzie neighbors forget where he stands. No matter - we don't bother him and he doesn't bother theory anyway.

Our current neighborhood is a hard one to read (well, except for Arnie). Most folks don't seem to socialize with one another at all - there is the occasional nod or hello in passing, but very little conversation happening. Martha, across the street, seems to be the friendliest one and the one who cares the least about the dykes across the street. Norman, who used to live four townhouses down, seemed to like us as well. But he passed away this last winter, so now there is only Martha.

When we first moved into the area, we attended a neighborhood meeting. Most folks wanted to set a bunch of rules, mostly pertaining to noise and dog excrement (none of the local dog-owners or loud people attended this meeting). But Arnie had a different agenda - he wanted to organize a Bible study.

A what?!?!? I thought, but not aloud. He's got to be fucking kidding. He's not serious, is he?

He was very serious. For realz. He even asked for a show of hands of all of those interested. Holy shit, is he really putting people on the spot like this? I instantly felt a rush of empathy for all of the Jewish folk in the room. For this Buddhist-leaning Atheist, Arnie's pompous assumption that the entire room was Christiain AND wanting to study the Bible AND with him, was downright appalling.

I didn't attend any more neighborhood meetings.

And I haven't even crossed paths with Arnie until recently.

J and I were heading in the direction of sleeping on a recent Sunday night when we heard the rattling of glass outside. Having a little bit of a Mrs. Kravitz streak, I jumped out of bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash. Peeked through the minblinds - there was no sash. When what to my wandering eyes should appear, but my neighbor Arnie and eight of my bottles that once held beer. He sifted and sorted through finished crossword puzzles and canned cat food ick, but only the refundables he opted to pick. He saw empty wine bottles, empty gin bottles and more, surely he thought me an alcoholic - right down to my core.

I have mixed feelings about Arnie dumpster diving in my recycling bins. On the one hand, he must need the money or he wouldn't likely collect cans and bottles from his neighbors. On the other hand, I gather that he's somewhat ashamed of weekly ritual or he wouldn't be tiptoeing down the street at midnight thirty or so. And on the other hand (yep, I've got three hands going here), I don't want him seeing my empty bottles and cans or my discarded Good Vibrations catalogs. Hell, I don't even want him knowing what kind of shampoo I used or whether or not I could finish the Saturday Sudoku puzzle. We have collapsed boxes from ovulation predictor kits and the occasional telltale signs of online CD shopping binges.

This totally feels like an invasion of my privacy.

So what do I do about it? Do I facilitate his hunting and gathering by creating a separate bag, containing the refundables, and put his name on it? Should I just bring them to his doorstep (Arnie's no spring chicken, to be sure) and save him the trouble of toting them down the street? Or do I leave him a note asking him to kindly refrain from sifting through what we've discarded. And put at the curb. Out in the world. Where anyone could whisk it away?

Would I feel the same way if the person ransacking my rejects were anyone but Arnie? Do I feel a sense of resentment that J and I are not good enough for him...but our trash is?????

Monday, August 20, 2007

Things that go bump in the night...

J and I just returned from a camping trip with our good friends, Kara and Patrizio, up at Lost Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest. We've all camped up there together before and even have a favorite campsite (B11) - a two-bedroom site with a cozy living room and a secluded "opium den." This site is tucked back off of the road and has an incredible amount of privacy - as far as car camping is concerned, it's teh shit. Pretty much the only time we saw other campers was when we ventured out of our campsite, with the exception of about five or so who happened to walk down the road that connects our site to the rest of the world. And, with the exception of what sounded like a rockin' party a few sites down, we never really heard any of our neighboring campers either. Keep in mind that we camp on Mon/Tues/Wed typically - no guarantees of what the population there might be like on the weekend.

Besides the feeling of being secluded in the woods, we like the lake itself at Lost Lake. There are no motorized boats, jet skis or the like allowed on the lake and so the water is pristinely clear and doesn't taste nasty. The view from the middle of the lake, due to the proximity of Mt. Hood is pretty damn stunning. One of my favorite things to do at Lost Lake is to rent a row boat and take a bottle of wine and some cheese (well, and a loved one, of course) and row to the middle and just chill.

There are a few good hikes at Lost Lake: the perimeter of the lake is about 3 1/2 miles, flat, easy and in the shade (there are sometimes a lot of bugs, though); the Old Growth Trail is the sort of one mile jaunt/nature walk that might be especially enjoyable to small children or nonhikers; the Butte trail is our favorite - a moderate two-mile climb up about 1500 feet with a very rewarding view at the top (of course, the two miles back down is a cinch). Between the hike up and the hike back down, we saw fewer than ten other hikers on the trail or at the summit. I think they have some other trails there, as well, including another moderate climb, but these are the ones we like most.

On our first day, after establishing ourselves and getting our site set up, we gathered 'round the picnic table for our 'Happy Hour' (this is a tradition whenever we camp with Kara and Patrizio - I guess you could say that we're glam campers). While enjoying our martinis and appetizers, we happened to notice a plastic sign stapled to the picnic table. It was a warning about the presence of bears and that ALL food odors attract bears and that it was essential to pack all food, coolers, cooking equipment and dishes, as well as any cosmetics/shampoos, soaps, into your car at night. We all swear that this sign was not there the last time we camped at Lost Lake. Now, being experienced campers, we've always put our non-chilled food items back in the car at night (I've learned the hard way that chipmunks love trail mix and the raccoons go batty for Jet-Puffed marshmallows). But our coolers have latches (one requires a button to be pushed in while the handle is simultaneously slid down - trust me, most forest animals would not be able to figure that out) and our campstove and clean dishes have always been left out with nary a problem.

We contemplated this sign, along with the extra effort involved in reloading the car each night with almost all of our gear. We wondered if there had been some sort of incident involving a bear that had prompted this warning. Filing that one away under 'better safe than sorry,' we loaded everything that had encountered food, along with actual food and the coolers, back into the car after our delicious dinner of penne pasta with a Caponata sauce and a couple of bottles of Montepulciano. The few cracker crumbs that fell on the ground during happy hour were intentionally left for Chip and Dale, the friendly chipmunks who seemed to be our self-appointed foster pets.

Flash forward to a still night and sound sleeping being enjoyed by all when suddenly, at 3am, a loud gunshot was heard. This sound was unmistakably the sound of a gunshot and, while it didn't sound like it was actually in our campsite per se, it didn't sound like it was too terribly far away either. J and I shot up in our tents and looked at each other.

"What the fuck was that???" we pretty much said in unison.

"It sounded like a fucking gunshot."

"No, it WAS a gunshot," J clarified.

We sat there, still, contemplating the possibilities as well as our options. Perhaps we even began to doubt that what we heard was actually a gunshot and more likely just a loud noise that woke us and we were quick to chalk it up as a gunshot. The gears were turning...what other sorts of loud banging sounds might be heard in a campground at 3am? But then we heard it again. It was definitely a gunshot. We may be cityfolk, but we ain't stooopid. J began to literally shake in her shoes (although she was not wearing any...yet). I didn't know what to do or what to say to her that might seem calming, so I just sat there thinking.

We heard the sound of the zipper on Kara and Patrizio's tent being unzipped. J wondered aloud if "it" was trying to "get" our dear friends. I told her that it was probably Patrizio trying to figure out what the sound was. J heard the zipper again and continued worrying about the welfare of our friends. I found this sound reassuring, figuring that if our friends were out and about and we weren't hearing any sounds of alarm or panic from them, everything was probably fine. J arrived at a more ominous conclusion from hearing the sounds of footsteps in our immediate vicinity.

Thoroughly convinced that a mass-murderer or a bear was lurking outside of our tent, J put on her shoes, grabbed my pocket knife in one hand and her Maglite flashlight in the other - she was determined to do a number on anyone who dared to even think about venturing into our territory. I gave her a look which, obviously, she couldn't see, but she clearly sensed.

"I want to be able to run," she rationalized, obviously referring to the shoes.

"I think I want to go to the car," she continued. Our car? The one packed with all of our gear that we were convinced not to leave out? I wasn't following her logic here. Again, she intuited my ponderings.

"I'll feel more safe in the car," she'd decided.

"Honey," I told her, "there is no room for sleeping in the car with all of that gear and it wouldn't be comfortable to sleep sitting up." She wasn't convinced. I wasn't sure what to tell her. She was clearly terrified and, as for me, well, I was a little bit scared, but more about the gunshots and what that entailed than I was about anything being in the immediate vicinity. And, even if there had been something or someone just outside of our tent, I look at it this way: whoever/whatever it is has no idea who is inside the tent, whether they are male or female, weak or strong, old or young, crazy or not crazy, armed or not get the picture. Therefore, someone would have to be either really brave or really stupid to lurk outside someone's tent in the middle of the night. It was at this point that I recalled an adage that has been circulated by my friend Michael and that is reputed to come from an old man in Brooklyn. The old man said, with regard to fear of flying, if it's my time to go, then it's my time to go...and if it's the pilot's time to go, then it's my time to go, too. This philosophy seemed apropos. However, I still had a trembling wife on my hands.

It was at that moment that we heard a loud cough, clearly Patrizio's. I assured J that it was Patrizio and the sense that there was an immediate threat began to subside. Still not knowing what the hell the gunshots were all about, we somehow managed to get right back to sleep.

We discussed the ominous gunshot sounds with Kara and Patrizio over breakfast but, natch, nobody had any leads on what had actually happened. When J and Patrizio went to the little store by the lake to get more ice before we embarked on our hike, they asked the clerk about the two gunshots heard at 3am.

"Are you two gun activists?" the clerk - exactly what you'd picture if someone said 'big Harley Davidson guy' - retorted.

"Um, no, we aren't gun activists," Patrizio responded.

"Then how do you know it was a gunshot?" HDg challenged.

"I know what gunshots sound like," said Patrizio, still somewhat confused by why HDg seemed to imply that only a 'gun activist' might be able to identify the sound of a gun shooting. Had he meant 'gun enthusiast'?

"Well, I didn't hear anything last night and this is the first I've heard of any gunshots heard, so I don't know what to tell you."

J and Patrizio left with three bags of ice, but no info on the gunshots. Before bed that next night, we all joked about hoping we didn't hear gunshots in the middle of the night again.

We were awakened about an hour into our sleep by the loud sound of a dog yelping, as if it were hurt or afraid. It was drastically different than a howling or barking sound. For some reason, the sound of someone/something hurting or frightening a dog was not the least bit alarming to us and we went instantly back to sleep.

And we're not even dog activists.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Green means go, right? Right?

Well, I had a little accidente the other day...totally 100% my fault. I was stopped at a red light, behind a fella in a Volkswagon somethingoranother and when the light turned green he didn't go, so I hit him. Okay, I didn't hit him because he was refusing to follow protocol when the light turned green, I hit him as a result of his abeyancy.

Obviously, nothing catastrophic in the grand scheme of car crashes - I was probably going about 1 mile per hour and, since I started out about 5-7 feet away from him, the impact was pretty minimal. I've been the hittee before, but never the hitter - I have yet to decide which position is the more challenging one to be in...check back in with me after I pay out on the claim.

Despite the apparent triviality that was this accident, I was pretty shaken up over the whole thing - my hands were trembly and my heart rate was racing. Yet, somehow, it didn't seem like it would be a very good idea to sit there and pop an Ativan at that exact moment. I followed Mr. Volkswagon over to the Walgreen's parking lot to exchange infos.

When I got out of my car, I began to apologize - very sincerely. I asked him if he was alright. Mr. Volkswagon stood there, with a disgruntled expression, looking at his dented rubber bumper and shaking his head back and forth. I told him that I was fully insured and that we needed to exchange information.

He just continued shaking his head back and forth.

"Sir," I said to him, "I've apologized and I've told you that I'm fully insured."

He said nothing - just grunted and glared at me.

"Sir," I continued, "There's no reason to be so angry - it was an accident and those happen. I've apologized, I've told you that I'm fully insured, and the damages appear to be pretty minimal. What more do you want from me?" After a short pause, I continued, "Is it alright with you if we exchange information now?"

"No. You give me your information and I'll send you an estimate," he told me.

"No," I told him, "absolutely not. Our insurance companies will handle this." (Did I look stupid to him?)

"But I did not do any damage, so you don't need my information."

"But we were both involved in the accident, so I do need your information. I will give you my information when you give me yours."

At this point, I was beginning to think that he was pretty lucky that I wasn't some asshat chewing him out for just sitting there when the light turned green.

He proceeded to walk over to the front of my car, where we both learned that there was absolutely no damage to my vehicle. This made him irate.

"See, you don't even have a scratch on your car!" Was he envious? "You drive a nice car and you get away with no damage and you have put a dent in my car!

This really seemed to piss him off. I decided not to take this bait, as I could see no good coming out of an argument over whose car was the nicest and how unfair that was. I told him again that I'd give him my information when he gave me his.

He grunted again and produced a driver's license and a copy of his registration with his insurance information below it. He then told me to write "I hit you" and sign it on the piece of paper where he'd written my infos.

"No way," I told him, "I'm not comfortable with that. I will tell my insurance company that I hit you and it's quite clear by the damage done that I was at fault, but there's no way I'm writing that down for you."

He wasn't happy about that, but that was too bad. What the hell was he trying to do? It was a really minor accident - was he going to try and take me to small claims court or something? Clearly this guy watches way too much daytime television. After the exchange, he just stood there. He really seemed to want to prolong this. I told him that I'd be phoning my insurance company either later that day or the next morning and that they would take it from there. He stood there looking at me and I told him that if there was nothing else he needed from me, then I needed to go.

I then popped an Ativan and headed off to work.