Thursday, December 29, 2011

In which I find on facebook my high school boyfriend who didn't want to kiss me

You guys, I have to tell you about something that just happened that has made me so happy. Do you remember when I told you about my high school boyfriend, Ken, who later turned out to be gay?

He kissed me only the one time and when he did, he told me I tasted like macaroni and he didn't like macaroni.

But except for the not-kissing part, I really liked Ken. He would drive me to school and home from swim practice, which was great because nobody, I mean nobody at my school had a car. My dad was stationed at Howard AFB in the Panama Canal Zone. The military would ship one car per family. To have more than one car, you had to pay to ship it yourself, which was not cheap. Or I suppose buy one in Panama. I don't know what prices were like, but Panama had no auto manufacturing industry that I knew of, so these cars had to be shipped as well.

Not that it was hard to have only one car in the Zone. On base, everything was in walking distance. By walking distance, I mean within a mile or two because unless you have health issues, you can walk two miles. I was at a hotel in Miami for a job interview in 1997 and wanted to find someplace for lunch. "Is there anything I can walk to?" I asked the clerk. I wouldn't have minded driving, but the company had not rented a car for me, so I was stuck.

"No," the clerk said as she shook her head sorrowfully. "Nothing close enough to walk."

When the HR lady picked me up the next day, I saw a shopping strip with restaurants three blocks from the hotel. Which is certainly close enough to walk.

Off base, there was excellent public transportation. My friend Julie and I took the chiva bus home from swim meets all the time. The only problem was standing at the bus stop in our shorts and swimsuits, hearing the Panamanian men yelling, "Chica americaaaaaaaaa-na!" and making that weird sucking, kissy noise with puckered lips that is supposed to accomplish I don't know what because it sure wasn't attractive.

Ken's uncle sent him videos of U.S. TV shows. We got U.S. TV on Armed Forces TV, but a season or two late. Any time someone new would start at school, we would grill her about what was happening on General Hospital. All we knew was that creepy Luke with his ugly hair was chasing Laura. We were all shocked to learn that she broke up with Scotty.

Ken and I would watch Mork and Mindy and a few times, we played Pong, which even back then, despite its novelty, held no appeal for me. Now that I am a middle-aged lady living in the Midwest, I have even less interest in video games.

We would hang out at his house even when his mom and dad weren't home, which makes me think that somewhere, on some level, they might have known. With my next boyfriend, we necked at the movies and during lunch behind the chem lab and in his car on dates. We necked so much that I got whisper burn on my chin. All we could think of was necking. But Ken and I didn't kiss. I should have known there was something off, but I had never had a boyfriend before so I didn't know what was supposed to happen.

Perhaps the ideal situation for parents would be for their daughters to date gay boys because there would be nothing to worry about.

I liked him. I was less attracted when he shaved his head for ROTC Rangers, but I still liked him.
But he ditched me - more or less - right before the Christmas dance. The plan had been that he and I would go with Julie and her boyfriend, but then he never formally asked me to the dance and I guess we were broken up. We stopped talking and I met the new boyfriend with whom I necked during lunch and life was fine until the new boyfriend didn't ask me to the prom and went with that red-headed girl in my gym class. They spent the night in a Panamanian jail - I don't remember why - so it worked out in the end.

Ten years later, I ran into Ken and his parents, who had always loved me - I remember being at a party at Julie's house and Ken's mom circling Ken and me as we danced, taking photos - at the Seattle space needle. I had just quit my job to attend grad school and was taking a six-week tour through the northwestern U.S., a trip that included several nights of sleeping in my car at campgrounds in the mountains, which was not so smart of me because guess what? even in July, the mountains are darn cold at night, an idea that is almost incomprehensible to someone who lives in Texas and might pull out a winter coat in January.

A person who only uses her winter coat in January probably does not think to take a warm coat with her on a trip in July.

I know better now, of course. I travel with a blanket, a candle, a small shovel, water and food in my car. But that's because my dad ordered me to do so when I drove from Texas to Minnesota in December. The two Air Force Academy students had died in a blizzard either that winter or the winter before, trapped in their car. My dad said that the heat from one candle plus some blankets would have been enough to keep them warm. I have not verified this information with any other sources, as I trust my dad, who grew up in northern Wisconsin, to know what he was talking about when it came to surviving cold weather.

I was in Seattle. Had gone to the top of the space needle. Looked over, saw a nice-looking guy, looked twice because hey he was a nice-looking guy, then looked thrice because I thought, Wow! That man looks so much like Ken! How weird is that!

Then I looked four times. Then I looked at the two people with him. And those people! They look like Mr and Mrs KenLastName!

I looked again.

There was no doubt.

I walked over to them. "Ken?" I asked.

Startled, he stared at me.

I turned to his dad. "Mr KenLastName?" I asked. "It's the Gold Digger! From Panama!"

Their jaws dropped. Then they smiled. A little reunion! So far from Panama!

Mr and Mrs KenLastName insisted I join them for dinner. They were animated and chatty, Ken was withdrawn. But here was my chance. I took a deep breath, then plunged in.

"Ken, why did you ditch me right before the Christmas dance?" I asked.

He flinched. Thought. "I don't know," he admitted. "I was dumb."

I thought no more of it. A year or two later, I got a Christmas card from him telling me he was getting married. Then I heard nothing. Several years after that was when I googled him and found the posting on the gay athletes site. I knew it was Ken because he has a very distinctive last name and the post was about swimming and we had met when we were both on the swim team.

I was happy because I realized that his lack of desire to kiss me had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him.

I googled him again recently and found him on facebook. I hesitated. Should I friend him? I didn't know. I didn't know if he would want to hear from me. I didn't know what the protocol was for friending former boyfriends. Facebook keeps suggesting I friend Calvin, my college boyfriend to whom I was engaged but then changed my mind. I do know that that one is not a good idea. FB can shut up with its stupid suggestions.

I decided not to initiate anything.

But then this week, I was working on the book that has to become a bestseller so Primo can quit his job and become a full time revolutionary, although he is not interested in camping or roughing it, so he needs to be a revolutionary with excellent financial backing so he can stay at nice hotels with good breakfasts and accumulate his hotel points. I included a scene about the character discovering her high school boyfriend was gay, blah blah blah and I started thinking about Ken again.

I went back to facebook. Looked him up. Sent him a message. Waited.

I got an immediate response, along with a friend request.

He wrote the loveliest note, telling me how nice it was to hear from me and that it was our conversation in Seattle that got things moving with his telling his parents and coming out.

It feels good to get that off my chest since I feel that I owed you an honest explanation.

I wrote back that I had discovered years before that he was gay, which was a relief to me, and that I was happy he was happy.

He answered that he had wanted for years to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me.

I thought you were a beautiful girl back in HS...I still think that you were back then and are still now.

It wasn't me. It was never me. And he knew it and wanted me to know it. Best of all, someone I liked with whom I share a common biography is back in my life. The End.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In which I get rid of a pain in the head

I don't think I've told you about my Medical Drama. Don't worry. It's nothing serious. Just annoying.

For years, I have had headaches. I finally went to the doctor and he called them migraines and I said, No, a migraine is when you throw up and have to be in a dark quiet room all day and he said, No it's not. He also told me there is no such thing as a sinus headache and the sineaid I had been taking for years not only did not help my headaches but probably made them worse.

He wanted me to see a neurologist but I thought $$$$$! and said, No, you fix it. It's just headaches.

He sighed, rolled his eyes, and said to quit taking so much OTC medicine because that causes rebound headaches.

When a friend at the gym suggested I try imitrex as a painkiller, I asked my doc for an RX and he gave me one.

When another friend told me about topamax, which is supposed to prevent headaches and which has the side effect of absolutely killing the appetite, I said, Sign me up.

My doc gave me the topamax, which did nothing to stop my headaches but did kill my appetite to the point that one day at work, I got dizzy as I walked up the stairs. But why? I asked myself. Then I realized that all I'd had to eat that day was half a cup of yogurt for breakfast and then three asparagus spears for lunch. The drug completely removed my desire to eat.

Within a month, I could actually see my abs, which up to now had always been covered by a fluffy Memphis Roll. All that good BBQ and corn pudding and cheese grits.

The muscles themselves were solid, as I had been exercising for a while, but I had never been able to see them before. It is possible to have muscles with a layer of fluff on top. That's what happens when you exercise + eat. I have discovered that it is not possible to exercise enough so that I can eat whatever I want. So I have made peace with my Memphis Roll.

But I had to stop the topamax because it wasn't performing the required task.

My doc sent me to an ENT for something else. The ENT did a CT scan of my head. No tumor. Then I gave up and went to the neurologist, who shook his head and told me to stop taking all the OTCs.

When I moved to [new town], my family doc refused to treat my headaches. "I don't do those," he said. "I don't know enough. You have to see a neurologist for that."

I went to the neurologist, who bills out at $800 an hour and I am not complaining about that because I would happily pay $800 never to have another headache again as long as I live.

She took a long case history, gave me a dozen photocopied pages that I glanced at and then tossed. I didn't get headaches after eating aged cheese or chocolate. I got them from glare, changes in barometric pressure, dehydration, and then sometimes just because. It was the just becauses I wanted to figure out.

We tried different preventive drugs, none of which worked to stop my headaches but all of which had lovely side effects like making my hair fall out in clumps or making me gain weight.

Primo and I visited my aunt Rita. I got an email from her the week after we left. "You weren't kidding about the hair loss!" she wrote. "I found hair all over the bathroom floor!"

I felt bad. I had cleaned the shower after I was through, but I didn't see the hair on the floor because I don't wear my glasses to shower.

I went through thousands of dollars of drugs and doctor bills. The co-pay - the CO-PAY - for the lyrica was $140. On the market, it would have cost me over $1,000.

I considered participating in a research trial where they put a little plug in your heart. There appears to be some connection between people who get migraines and people in whom that little hold between the chambers doesn't close at birth. But I decided I didn't want a tube run into my heart.

The neurologist gave up. "Try acupuncture," she suggested.

I found an acupuncturist near my house. When I got to the clinic, the clerk asked me for a urine sample. I looked around: the sign noted that I was in a drug rehab center.

"No, no urine sample," I said.

"But you have to," she stated.

"No I don't," I told her. "That's not what I'm here for."

I wanted to say, "Do I look like an addict?" but then I thought, Well maybe I do. Maybe there are addicts who aren't emaciated and have good teeth. Aren't there Hollywood addicts who go into treatment all the time in between movies where they look fabulous?

She shrugged. Whatever.

I sat and read the sheaf of papers. I had to sign a contract agreeing to keep my appointments. I rolled my eyes. Again, not an addict.

It reminded me of when I went to the dental school in Memphis for my implant. Note that's singular and at the dental school. We are not talking about implants, but an implant, as in a fake tooth to replace the tooth that had to be pulled after almost 20 years of causing me trouble, starting when half of it broke off when I was flossing.

My teeth have betrayed me my whole life. I have taken care of them, even paying for my annual cleaning and exam when I was in grad school and didn't have dental insurance, but they have done me wrong. Perhaps I don't have good teeth. Maybe that receptionist could sense how many cavities and crowns and root canals I had had. But I have good teeth in that not meth mouth way.

At the dental school, after I'd had the surgery to put donor bone in my gum, as my own bone was lacking - and I just read Stiff, which is about research on cadavers, and have a pretty good idea where that bone came from, the dental student was very insistent that I remember to return for my appointment a few months hence.

As he saw me write the appointment in my purse calendar, he looked at me: suit, heels, overall good teeth, decent haircut. "Maybe I don't need to remind you and remind you to come back," he said.

"No I don't think so," I answered.

I didn't sign the contract. I wasn't trying to kick a habit.

Not that I don't have habits to kick. I want not to reflexively, if internally, criticize misspellings when I see them online or at the grocery store. I want not to look with derision on sloppy dressers. I especially want that one, as I am in no position to criticize. It is 2:46 in the afternoon and I am still in my PJs and robe and have not even washed my face. I have, however, made a batch of homemade mustard - cross your fingers on that one - and gotten everything out to make the coffee snaps in the Joy of Cooking. Judge not lest ye, etc, etc. Plus you never know what someone's situation is. Maybe someone is staying with a sick child at the hospital and hasn't had a chance to do anything for days. You can hardly expect that person to spend an hour dressing to the max.

Or maybe that person is just lazy as sin, as I am. I go to the store in my gym clothes because the store is on my way home from the gym. It makes no sense to drive home, shower, change, and then return to the store, does it? Actually, it's because I am so environmentally sensitive. That's it.

I want to assume the best of people, not the worst, even of the people who get in the express lane at the grocery store with MORE THAN 12 ITEMS! "Can't you read?" I want to snap at them. Then I have to remind myself that sheesh! is it like you are in such a hurry that you have to get out with your cauliflower, half and half, and cilantro right now?

I looked around the clinic. I saw a man in a white lab coat hurry by me. He was wearing a yarmulke and he had those curly sidelocks. Then another man, also in a lab coat, also with a yarmulke and sidelocks. I looked at the door: a mezuzah was attached to the frame.

I glanced down at my shirt. It was rather low cut. As in, it showed the cleavage I do not have. Was this the wrong shirt to be wearing to a clinic run by orthodox Jewish men? Probably. I tugged my shirt up and my skirt down.

The acupuncturist, Seth, came to get me. He, too, was an orthodox Jew. An orthodox Jewish acupuncturist.

He waved his hand when I said I hadn't given a urine sample. "Not necessary," he said. Ha. I knew it.

Seth and I chatted. He asked me about what I ate. Here we go again, I thought. But when he told me to go a week without dairy - "Even though that's so last century," he told me - and then a week without gluten - "That's the food allergy du jour," he said and track my headaches, I thought, Well what do I have to lose?

He also told me to try yoga. Then he stuck a tiny little needle in the top of my foot and left it there for a minute. "I don't expect this to do much," he explained. "Acupuncture is not very effective for pain that is genetic in origin."

I went home and followed his instructions. A week without dairy. Which was hell as I love cheese. And half and half. And frozen custard. But I admitted to myself that it might be a fair tradeoff never to have another headache.

But the headaches didn't diminish.

I cut out the gluten. Do you know how many foods have gluten? Soy sauce has gluten! Soy sauce!

Still no change.

I returned for more poking, dressed more modestly this time. While the four needles rested in my feet and hands, we talked about Memphis, where he was going to be traveling to complete a PhD program. "Oh the barbecue!" I raved.

He looked at me. "I take my own food," he said.

"But Central BBQ is not expensive," I told him.

He shook his head. "Not kosher."

Ah! Of course.

"But Memphis has a huge Jewish population," I said. "Not one kosher BBQ restaurant?"

"I don't know," he said. "But it is a big pain in the neck to make BBQ kosher."

This was last summer. I read yesterday about a kosher BBQ restaurant there. I need to call Seth and tell him.

He pulled the needles out. I left.

And started to notice a decline in my headaches.

Which seemed crazy to me, because I don't really believe all that acupuncture stuff. Although I do have a friend who swears by it, so maybe it does work for some people. It just seemed nuts that a few little needles would stop my headaches.

What other explanation could there be? I examined the changes in my diet and behavior over the past two weeks.

One big change was it was warmer outside. We had the windows open. Could it be a weather thing? Would this be my excuse to move back south?


I had been going to yoga, which is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be. Why should I be surprised? 1. I have been bit in the ass so many times by things I have thought, Well a high-school dropout can do this so why can't I? That's how I ended up with some (note that is more than one, which shows that I am incapable of learning from experience) really bad self-inflicted haircuts. 2. Have you ever seen a yoga instructor? They are in amazing shape. AMAZING.

It was a great workout, but I discovered that the downward dog, it does not work for me. As in, when I am in that position, the blood rushes to my face and into my eye sockets and the little capillaries around my eyes burst so that it looks like I have tiny measles just across the middle of my face. As much as I sort of enjoyed the post-workout pain of yoga, I don't want to have to wear a mask in public so that people don't think my husband is shooting my eyes with buckshot or whatever you call those tiny little bullets.

Could it be the coffee? I had cut back from two cups of coffee every morning to one. It was just too warm for more than one coffee.

Caffeine? I wondered. Nah, that was too simple. Too easy. If caffeine caused headaches, surely one of the many docs I had seen over the past ten years would have suggested I stop drinking it.

But it was worth a test. I bought some decaf and switched. I stopped drinking diet Dr Pepper in the afternoon.

My headaches stopped. Completely. I went three months without a headache. I used to have two to three headaches a week. I went three months. Without one headache. Then I had a few because there were some big weather changes and because I thought, This time, I can work on my computer without closing the blinds first! I'm just going to be a second. That's not enough glare to start a headache! Only it was. But that headache was my own stupid fault. So four headaches in four months is not too shabby.

Which made me happy and made me a wee bit mad, because if it was that simple, why on earth had somebody not suggested it ten years ago? I could have saved thousands of dollars in medical and drug bills and I wouldn't have had to deal with hair fallout. Plus I wouldn't have felt crummy several days every month from the headache or from the painkillers, which sometimes work but always have their own side effects.

The moral of the story is: try cutting out caffeine before you go to the $800 an hour doctor.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In which Yves' cheapness makes me not very sad when he breaks up with me

I know I just wrote about how wonderful Yves was when I threw up at the romantic cafe, or at what was supposed to be the romantic cafe, but he had a dark side and that was his cheapness.

Not that I don't welcome a good thrifty attitude. I myself, as you know, am from the Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste, and regard spendthriftness and financial mismanagement as about the worst things you can do outside of breaking the ten commandments. Murder and adultery are worse than wasting money or spending money you don't have. But not much.

A friend is doing an estate sale for a couple who is losing their $1.1 million house to foreclosure. He is a stocker at a grocery store and she used to be a mortgage broker.

"But how did they get a mortgage for a house that price?" I gasped.

My friend looked at me. "Are you serious? She was a mortgage broker! She got her own loan."

I was still confused. "But how did they pay the mortgage without enough income?"

"They have thousands and thousands of dollars in credit card debt," my friend said. "They just kept borrowing."

I could never live like that. I could never sleep knowing that I didn't have enough money to pay my bills. I already have sleepness nights worrying about my 401k and how it has not done a thing in the past 15 years and thinking that I better keep Primo healthy and happy for at least another 20 years because if he dropped dead right now, there would not be enough money from the life insurance to take me to 97, my expected age of death, and it's sure not like anyone wants to hire me.

But Yves took thriftiness to the next level. Washed his clothes in the sink because he didn't have a washing machine. OK, he was in an apartment and there wasn't room for a washing machine, but at least take the clothes to a laundromat or a cleaner! Kept track of all our expenses during the trip through the south of France on a spreadsheet. When he wanted to see me on a business trip to Memphis, after he had broken up with me nine months previously, he asked me to tell him quickly if I would see him, as there was only one more cheap seat on the Saturday flight from Paris to Memphis.

Mind you, this was a business trip. Not that I am saying one should be a bad steward of an employer's money, but he was making the arrangements for this trip two months in advance. Two months. I think there might have been other seats available.

Not to mention that there were so many ways that company wasted money that an extra $100 for an international plane ticket wasn't even a flea on the tick of management that was sucking the shareholders dry.

Not that I'm bitter about having worked -and been laid off from - a place so badly managed that in the six years since my layoff - and the layoffs of thousands of other employees - the stock price has not gone up at all. Not that I'm bitter that even though the CEO presided over a 34% decline in stock price while I was there (which meant I never got to cash in my options, even though it wasn't my fault that the stock market hated the company) and even though he presided over thousands of job losses and even though there was no improvement in productivity, he still got a $1.2 million bonus.

So yeah. Ask me if I care that Yves might not get the cheapest ticket.

But the main thing he did that annoyed me to no end was when he came to visit me in Cedar Rapids. He had been to Memphis for work, along with his colleague Hubert. A month before he came to the U.S., he called to ask if he could visit.

Sure! I told him. I would love to see him!

This was before he sent me the e-card for my birthday and then broke up with me a week later.

"Just tell me when to pick you up at the airport," I told him.

Oh, that wouldn't be necessary, he assured me. He and Hubert were going to drive from Memphis to Cedar Rapids!

"Drive?" I asked. "Are you sure? It's really dull. Just a bunch of cornfields."

I didn't know what I was talking about, he told me. He and Hubert wanted to see America and this was their chance.

I shrugged. "Whatever. Don't tell me I didn't warn you."

Hubert would drop Yves off and then go on by himself to Chicago for a few days, whence their return flight to Paris.

Yves would stay with me.

"Better check the Cedar Rapids-Chicago flights right now," I warned. "There are only a few each day."

A month later, on Friday afternoon, they arrived.

"What a boring drive!" they told me. "Nothing but cornfields!"

I just looked at them. Really? They had thought I didn't know my own country?

We went to lunch, then, as promised, Hubert left.

"When is your flight? I asked.

"Oh, I'm not going to fly from here to Chicago," Yves told me.

Mystified, I asked, "Then how are you getting there?"

I was thinking maybe he would rent a car or take the bus.

"I thought you could drive me!" he beamed.

"What?" I demanded. "What are you talking about?"

"You can drive me! I checked the fares and it's really expensive."

"You're not even paying it!" I shouted.

"It's so expensive." His voice trailed off as I shook my head.

"It's 250 miles to Chicago! Are you nuts?"

"But I thought you would want to spend more time with me," he said.


I was so mad. The last thing I wanted to do was to spend an entire day driving someone to the airport and then returning home.

But it was too late to change his plans.

"It's two tanks of gas," I seethed.

I don't remember what we did on Saturday. Probably watched the lint fall out of his wallet and then found a penny and stretched it into wire.

Sunday morning, we got up early. I had called my friend Lenore, who lives in Chicago, to see if we could meet her for lunch. We left Cedar Rapids and drove for five hours over VERY BORING TERRAIN to Lenore's house. We walked to a small pizza place by her house. When we finished eating, the waitress brought the check.

It sat on the table.

I waited for Yves to pick it up.

I know. What we learn from history is that we don't learn from history.

I should have grabbed it. What was wrong with me? But Lenore beat me to it. Why didn't I offer to split it with her? What was wrong with me? I was probably distracted by my fuming that Yves The Self Proclaimed Millionaire wouldn't buy lunch for me and my friend after I had just driven him TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILES to catch a damn plane.

I owe that woman a pizza.

I dropped Yves off at the airport and drove back home. Another 250 miles, for a total of 500 miles in one day, in case you're not good at math.

Six weeks later, he sent me the pathetic e-card. A week later, he broke up with me. My only response to him was, "You own me gas money for the trip to Chicago."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In which I get too busy and then can't pee and it's really awkward because I am with my boyfriend visiting his mother

Warning: This post involves bodily functions. If talk of such offends you, stop reading now.

Years ago, when I lived in Big Southern City, I met this really nice guy at work. We're going to call him Gerard. Not his name, but it will do. Gerard was sweet and nice and interested in me. I had broken up with my college boyfriend/fiance' and hadn't dated since, although there was the Disaster in Cincinnati where I thought I would be clever and sophisticated and witty with the older [31 to my 24] man when he bit a loose thread off his scarf and I asked sultrily if that was the only thing he could do with his teeth and suddenly everyone around me fell into shocked silence, including Older Man, who had known me for a month or two and had never seen this side of me, a side whose effectiveness was cancelled immediately by my fast and furious blushing as the full implications of what I was asking hit the front part of my brain. I mumbled something and backed away, wondering to myself where that had come from.

Fortunately, I was in Cincy only for a few months on a temporary job assignment. The Disaster happened the night before I was moving back to Texas. Whew.

I can't remember if the guy my boss set me up with was before Gerard or after Gerard. What I do remember was realizing that it's not really a good idea to get your honey where you get your money. Nothing wrong with working with someone you date. It's working with someone you used to date that's the problem.

And thank goodness there was no drama with the boss' friend. Salvatore was still in love with his old girlfriend and had no interest in me. There were some lackluster double dates with my boss, her husband, Sal and me, but it was really more Sal hanging out with his friends - my boss and her husband, and me hanging out with my boss and her husband, and we all happened to overlap. That could have backfired in a really bad way. But Sal didn't really care about me and I didn't really care about him, although I did care that he didn't care about me because who wants to be rejected by anybody? It is better for the ego to be the rejector than the rejectee.

Although being the rejector is no piece of cake, mind you. When you reject someone nice, whom you like, you get all the trauma of a rejection with none of the sympathy.

As it was, dating Gerard and then not-dating Gerard was not the best thing for me. Fortunately, I moved from Big Southern City to Other Southern City when we broke up, but I still had to work with him.

But all that aside - the story I want to tell you is about the time he took me to meet his family in Denver. He asked if I wanted to go home with him for the Fourth of July and said he would pay for half of my plane ticket, which seemed like a really good deal to me at the time and was very generous of him, considering we were both very entry level in our jobs with the corresponding entry-level salaries. No man had ever been so generous to me. I was easy to please.

My standards are higher now. When I met Primo, he paid for all my plane tickets to visit him. Granted, I was unemployed when we were dating and he had a gajillion frequent flier miles, although he often paid for tickets rather than redeem miles because he said the miles were worth more.

This was back before alimony when Primo had extra money. Now, he is paying alimony and we own a house, which means things like roofs and driveways and wet basements become money pits in orders of magnitude one could never imagine as a renter and make me long for the days when my biggest housing problem was the Crazy Laundry People Upstairs. Those were the days: no shoveling, no grass cutting, no home repairs. Just watch Bridezilla and What Not To Wear all day long. Freedom.

Primo was shocked and disgusted when he learned that the Moroccan Millionaire had not paid for my ticket to Paris for the Moroccan Millionaire Rendezvous. I had staunchly maintained that I was an independent woman who could not be bought and hence would buy my own ticket, but it would have been easier to maintain that stance had Moroccan Millionaire actually offered to open his wallet. That's the thing with millionaires - at least millionaires who get that way because a rich relative dies, not because they have earned the money themselves - they have no idea how hard it is actually to earn money. They think it's just there and that everyone has it and they don't have a clue.

But enough of that. Gerard very graciously offered to pay for half of my ticket and that's pretty much what clinched the decision.

So apparently, I can be bought.

Except I really liked Gerard. He was a very very nice guy. And he kissed just fine.

We flew to Denver. His sister, Evangeline, who lived in San Francisco, picked us up and we stopped at Gerard's favorite Mexican restaurant on the way back to his mom's house. I had never met anyone like his sister before.

She was a hippie.

You know: lived in San Francisco with her bearded Birkenstocked professor husband. Didn't shave her legs or under her arms. And even though Evangeline was already forty, her little girl was only four! ONLY FOUR! That meant that Evangeline had had a baby when she was thirty six!

To complicate matters, Evangeline wanted another baby. She was concerned, though, about being the only mom in kindergarten who was over forty. I was shocked, shocked, that someone that old would even think about having a baby. It was so old! She was right to be concerned, I thought.

But I kept my thoughts to myself.

Oh youth.

Gerard's dad was very ill. His mom wanted to get things settled with the will while Gerard and Evangeline were in town. She had laid out all the family silver and jewelry and anything else she thought Gerard and Evangeline might disagree about on the dining room table and about the living room. Her instructions to G & E were to figure out what they wanted now while she was there to referee, which is not a bad idea. Even when families don't have things that are worth money, they have things with sentimental value.

I could totally see my siblings and me arguing over who gets the yellow ceramic bowl that my mom used for making oatmeal chocolate chip (I never could figure out why my mom's cookies weren't like the other kids' chocolate chip cookies - I wanted the regular kind, without oatmeal, but oatmeal is a great extender) and for popcorn balls. It's just a regular ceramic bowl that you could get for under ten dollars today. But we all have good memories that go with it. We all also want the kitchen table. We may have to duke it out.

The rest of the time, Gerard and I got busy. We were in separate bedrooms of course because although Evangeline was a hippie, Gerard's mother was not and she knew what was appropriate and what was not. What's appropriate is separate bedrooms and then sneaking down the hallway at night.

Here's what happens when you get a little too busy - way more than you are used to because usually, you have a job and besides, you have a twin bed, which does not facilitate things: you get a little bit - um - bruised and then you can't pee.

I tried and tried and tried and I couldn't. Imagine having to go really bad and then you can't because it hurts. It is misery. I stopped drinking water. Still couldn't go. I sat and sat and sat in the bathroom, trying to distract myself, looking at the ceiling and whistling the "I'm not really here to pee!" song so my body would be tricked into peeing. Didn't work.

Finally, I said something to Gerard. Not that I expected him to be able to solve the problem. "Hello boyfriend!" you say. "Let me share something really intimate and embarrassing with you!"

That was back when I was 24, before anyone made a regular practice of farting in front of me. Some people take marriage as a license not to hold in the farts any more. That part was not covered in our pre-marital counseling.

But turned out that Gerard's dad was a urologist and Gerard, who was a biology major and pre-med in college, knew a thing or two himself after years of medical conversations with his dad.

"Sit in a tub of warm water," he suggested.

I didn't ask if I was supposed to pee in the bathwater, although that seemed to be the implication. You guys know where I stand on other people's tubs and showers. Sitting in a bathtub that had been used by other people and then polluting it myself? Oh gross.

Then there was the other issue of what the heck was I doing soaking in the tub in the middle of the day? How was I supposed to explain that?

Yet I was desperate. There is no pain like an unreleased full bladder.

So into the tub in the middle of the day I went. I took a magazine to distract myself, as the "I'm not really here to pee!" song had proven ineffective.

After 15 minutes or so (could be less, could be more - this happened 23 years ago), I felt a blessed relaxing. I scrambled out of the tub and did what Needed To Be Done. I did not pee in the tub. I have standards. Drained the tub. Got dressed. Rejoined G & E and the rest.

But I felt sure everyone knew what had transpired. What would the hippie think about what G and I had done? And my problem? I was so embarrassed.

The shame at what had transpired, coupled with my desire not to be reminded of that shame by seeing Evangeline or G's mother again, is probably not what inspired my breakup with Gerard. But it probably didn't help.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In which I figure out something technical that some of you might be interested in

One of my readers, Munira in Pakistan (yes I am international) asked me to set up an RSS feed, which was kind of like asking me to do my own brain surgery, but then I remembered The Google and I went to The Google, the source of all instructions, including how to repair my own Kenmore washing machine with a broken agitator and how much cake flour to substitute for regular flour, and found out that it wasn't that hard.

So if you are interested in having an email sent to you when I get around to posting here - I am in the middle of my first big rewrite of The Novel and thanks to all of you who gave me such great ideas on what to do with the in-laws at the end - just look at the upper right-hand corner of this page. All you have to do is enter your email and then some magic happens. Electrons are amazing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In which I have a romantic lunch that starts with zucchini tart and ends with throwing up

Remember Yves, the millionaire boyfriend (he claimed to be a millionaire, but would a true millionaire not even have his own washing machine?) who proposed to me nine months after he broke up with me?

We took a trip together -before he broke up with me - through the south of France. It was actually a lovely trip. He did all the driving and I decided where we were going. We got to see little villages you can't get to by train and he knew that crazy French driving rule that you yield to the driver coming from the right even if you are on a major road and the other driver is on a minor road. When Primo and I were in France last year and drove from Paris to Mont St Michel, I expected death from the right the entire time on the road, which seemed like four straight days but was probably less. Which was probably oh one afternoon. But one afternoon on French roads can feel like an eternity.

We (Primo and I) also discovered the joy of driving up a hill in Rennes 1. without snow tires 2. during a snowstorm with 3. other drivers without snow tires. Yes, it does snow in France. The only time it snowed during our week there was the day we had to drive back from Mont St Michel to Paris. The rest of the time, we had cold rain. France in November. There's a reason it's easy to find a hotel room in late fall.

Next time Primo and I go to France, we are taking the bus. Let someone else worry about the rules.

But Yves and I had a nice time going through the little villages and small cities and up to the top of Les Roches. It makes it easier to travel when you are with someone who speaks the language and knows the rules.

The only sour note - apart from the time

WAIT! THIS IS GROSS! YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP IT! Start reading again after the last set of all caps.

apart from the time when we were in the hotel in Arles where the toilets used about four ounces of water each flush I AM WARNING YOU STOP READING RIGHT NOW IF YOU GET GROSSED OUT DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU

and we all know that sometimes four ounces isn't enough, which is why the hotel provided a toilet brush


which Yves DID NOT USE so when I went into the bathroom, I saw quite clearly that he was an evening pooper who ate a lot of fatty food and not much roughage.

And that's as far as I'll go except to say that cleaning someone else's poop was not what I had in mind for a romantic vacation. He didn't leave his towels on the bathroom floor, but this was far, far worse. Picking up someone else's towels won't make you gag.

Related story: I used to swim at the JCC before I would go to work. That was back when I had a job and some degree of worth in the open market. Now I am just a parasite, consuming without contributing. If Primo dies, I am stuck. There is not enough life insurance to last for the next 50 years of life I undoubtedly have left, at least if there is anything to genetics, and the marketplace has made it quite clear over the past few years that it has no use for my talents. I better keep that man alive and working.

I would go to the JCC at 5:30 a.m., swim, shower, then go to work.

One morning, I arrived at the gym. I put my purse and sweatpants in a locker, then carried my towel and bath kit to the shower to leave it. I opened the door to the showers and a smell hit me.

It was the smell of poop.

Which as everyone knows does not belong in a shower.

I tiptoed to the first shower stall - there were four - and pulled back the curtain.

Someone had smeared poop on the wall.

I felt myself start to vomit.

I backed away, grabbed my towel, and ran out to the front desk.

"Someone smeared poop on the shower walls in the ladies' locker room," I told the attendant.

Her eyes flew open. "Oh!"

"You need to have someone clean it up."

She nodded vigorously. I went into the pool, swam my lazy 1,200 yards, and returned to the locker room.

When I opened the shower room door, the smell was still there. The shower had not been cleaned.

I grabbed my towel again, wrapped my body for modesty's sake, and marched out to the attendant. "It's still there!" I said.

"I told them," she protested.

I returned to the showers, used the stall on the very far end, which was clean, got dressed and left.

I came back at lunch to use the weights. Out of curiosity, I checked the showers.

Still poop laden.

I couldn't believe it.

I found the attendant and hissed, "IT'S STILL THERE!"

She shook her head. "I told them."

"You didn't check to make sure it was done!"

"That's not my job," she snapped.

"Yes! It is! It is your job to make sure it has been handled! All you had to do was walk thirty yards and check!" I stomped away to find someone who would actually give a damn. For five hundred dollars a year, I wanted clean showers. Was I asking too much? I don't think so.

She was unconvinced. "Besides," she said, "Our cleaners aren't paid enough to clean poop."

I whirled back. "Yes, they are! I cleaned poop for $3 an hour. If it is your job to clean the showers, then you clean the damn showers." [I did, when I was a lifeguard during college and the boys thought it was funny to poop on the men's room floor and the City of Converse would not let us lock the bathrooms and require patrons to request the key.]

One of the coaches overheard me. I told him the story and he was appalled. He glared at the attendant and promised, "I will make sure this is taken care of immediately." And he did.

Wow. That's a lot of poop talk for a story that is not about poop.


No, this story is not about poop. It is about vomit.

So the only sour note was the time we stopped for lunch at an idyllic little cafe in the country. The narrow road was lined with elm or chestnut or whatever kind of tree it is that lines country roads in Europe. We don't have many of those - tree lined roads - here. Possibly none. My neighborhood's streets used to be lined with elms that bent over and met in the middle of the street, but that was before Dutch elm disease. Now I just have a maple that drops its leaves overnight three weeks after all the other trees on the street have dropped and two weeks after I have had to rake everyone else's leaves out of my yard. This year, I just waited for the wind to blow my leaves from my yard into the other yards and darn if it didn't work.

But in Europe, they have old roads lined with trees. The sun shines between the leaves and branches and casts dappled light on the road. It was a warm, beautiful day. There might have been cicadas humming, although maybe not as we took this trip in May and I think May is too early for cicadas. Not that I am a cicada expert or anything, but I think they are a late summer thing.

We pulled over and walked to the cafe. The garden was just starting to bloom. A few people bent over the outdoor tables, holding hands across the bread and butter. This was a romantic place. Good. I needed some romance to make up for the you know what. (I'm not going to say it for the sake of the people who skipped the gross part.)

We sat. Looked at the menu. The special looked fabulous: starter of a zucchini tart, then poached fish with asparagus, then a chocolate mousse. Yum. I ordered the special, Yves ordered the steak frites.

We were starving. We hadn't eaten anything since our very light breakfast of bread and cheese and that had been five hours ago. I don't like to go more than ten minutes between snacks, so I was ready to go.

They brought out my tart.

I ate daintily, as Yves and I were still in that stage where we were trying to show each other our best face. Or at least I was. Yves had apparently gotten over the "She must never know I have bodily functions!" horror.

Primo and I still do not pee in front of each other. Yes, we have seen each other naked and our bodies are not as pretty as they were 20 years ago. He has pulled a white hair out of my chin and I have cleaned his infected leg wound, but we close the bathroom door. Every time. There has to be some mystery.

But Yves was either clueless or far less modest than I.

I ate daintily. I finished my small slice of tart. Yves at his small appetizer, whatever it was. I was going to say a salad, but then I remembered that the French don't eat their salad at the beginning of the meal. Or so I've heard. When Primo and I were in Paris, we were not eating multi-course meals. We had a lot of bread and cheese and just one fancy restaurant meal at Le Relais de Venice with the birthday money my mom sent me. I think there might have been salad, but what I remember is the steak and the great sauce that came with it. I even ate the french fries, which I only eat about once a year, just so I could have more of the sauce.

We waited for the next course.

And waited.

And then my stomach started to rumble.

I started to feel - not well.

I started to feel like I was going to throw up.

I rarely throw up. I had food poisoning in Albuquerque in 1986 and again in Memphis in 2003. I threw up both times. I can't remember much more throwing up besides that in my adult life except for the time when I decided to go to Europe after grad school even though I did not have a job. I was so stressed about doing something so irresponsible that I threw up and burst all the blood vessels around my eyes, making it look like someone had given me a light beating.

I burst those same blood vessels again a few months ago after several minutes of Downward Dog at the yoga class my orthodox Jewish acupuncturist who works at a drug rehab clinic had recommended for my headaches. Yoga not only did not stop my headaches (turns out that quitting caffeine was all I had to do for that) but gave me more, plus that lightly beaten about the eyes look.

I am a Delicate Flower.

Point is that I rarely throw up.

But I knew what was about to happen.

"I have to go to the bathroom," I blurted to Yves as I ran. I got there just in time. Chewed tart hurtled out of my body. I kept retching even once my stomach was empty. I vomited so hard that my stomach muscles, which are rarely used, started to hurt.

I flushed twice, wiped the specks off the seat, flushed again, then sat on the toilet to rest.

Throwing up is hard work.

I washed my hands, then rinsed my mouth. I looked at myself in the mirror: I was pale and sweaty. Not a good look for me.

I walked slowly back to the table. Yves stood. "What happened?" he gasped.

"I threw up," I told him.

"But why?"

"I think the eggs were bad in the tart. It's the only thing I can think of. It's the only thing I've had to eat for hours."

He frowned. He looked up, raised his hand and summoned the waitress.

"She is sick because of the tart. We are leaving. Cancel the order. I pay for my appetizer but not for hers."

The waitress tried to protest, but Yves would have none of it.

He threw some bills on the table, gently took my elbow, and carefully guided me to the car, where he reclined my seat. "You just rest," he commanded. "You just feel better."

A few hours later, we stopped for chocolate. I felt much better. But no more undercooked tarts for me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In which I spend way too much time with a colleague who turns out to be a complete flake

This guy Rolando and I started working for the paper company on the same day in Miami. We were paid the same amount. I know this because he foolishly made a copy of his offer letter and left the original on the copy machine and oh like you wouldn't have looked. Honestly. Of course I looked.

We banded together in defense against some of the other people in the office, one of whom was a sweaty, pale blond guy who spoke no Spanish yet was in charge of Latin America sales and who told me during my interview that he would never live in Miami (he lived in Boca Raton) because he had children.

I was quite puzzled, as there were many people in Miami who also had children, including my next door neighbor Mousson, whose 15 year old son Rudolf overfed my cats when I was out of town, telling me, when I gently suggested that he might have given them too much food, "But zey were 'ongry! Zey were crying!"

Then I realized that Pat was just a big fat racist jerk and that his opinion meant nothing to me.

Rolando and I tried to become friends, but I realized soon that there was no hope. The first sign was the day he saw the book Army of Angels in my briefcase. I rode the train from Miami to Boca, where the office was, 60 miles away, and had a lot of time to read every day. This was in the mid 90s, when people were not expected to work 24 hours a day just because they had laptops and cellphones. I read. I even had time to read The Economist every week. Three hours on a train every day will do that to you.

But Rolando was not a reader. He was not a student of history. I'm not sure what he was.

I don't want to sound like an intellectual snob. I know there are many bright people who have not been exposed to things that you would think everyone is exposed to. The great IT guy who was always so helpful to me in Memphis had never heard of Anne Frank.

He had never heard of Anne Frank.

How do you grow up in the U.S. and not know that?

But he was a product of Memphis City Schools, which, for those of you who do not know about Memphis City Schools, is not the best school system in the world. The county mayor once gave a speech in which he said that every day, when he woke up, he thanked God for Arkansas and Mississippi just so Memphis wouldn't be in last place.

Rolando asked what the book was about.

"Joan of Arc," I answered.

"Who's that?" he asked.

Oh Lord.

Rolando had gone to private school. His dad was a bigwhig with an international company. Rolando had gone to the good schools in Venezuela and Colombia and the U.S. He got his MBA at Northwestern, which did not admit me, not that I'm bitter about that. Actually, I'm not. I still went to a top school and I paid only $5,000 for two years of tuition and fees.

Plus it probably didn't help my chances at Northwestern in my interview when I asked the alum who was interviewing me what made Northwestern ten times better than U.T. that they charged ten times as much tuition. The alum was not amused and sputtered that you couldn't look at just tuition. I shrugged. I was paying for this. I wanted to know. But Northwestern made it easy for me and didn't admit me. Whatever.

But Rolando, who was educated and who had gotten into a school that had not admitted me, did not even know who Joan of Arc was. For dumb.

But that's not what made him so flaky.

One day, when I mentioned that my friend Susan and I were going to the Keys on Saturday morning to go canoeing, he asked to join us. Sure, I told him. Just be at my house at 7:00 a.m. That's when we're leaving.

Susan and I waited. No Rolando. We waited some more. Still no Rolando.

I finally called the phone number he had given me. He was staying with his parents until he found a place and I didn't want to call so early, but I was worried that maybe he'd had an accident between his mom and dad's house and my house and wouldn't you want to know if you were a parent?

His mom answered. "He's still sleeping," she told me.

"Screw him," I told Susan. "We're not waiting."

That's still not the flaky part.

Rolando and I had to go to Cincinnati for two weeks of training. We decided not to fly back to Miami for the weekend in the middle but just to stay up there. "There's some cool state parks in Kentucky," I said. "We could go to the park, stay in the lodge and the company would pay for it."

Our boss said fine. He didn't care. As long as we spent less than tickets back to Miami would have cost.

We checked out of the hotel that Friday before driving to the park. Rolando had a $150 phone charge on his bill. He had called the plant in El Salvador on the hotel phone.

"Why didn't you use the company calling card?" I asked.

He shrugged. "It probably wouldn't save that much money," he answered.

"What!" I said. "You really think that the company wouldn't negotiate a better rate than the hotel charges?"

"Nah," he said.

He had another $40 on his bill for laundry.

"What laundry?" I asked.

"My socks," he said.

"Socks? But why?"

"I didn't bring two weeks worth of socks," he said. "I had to have them washed."

"But you could have washed them in the sink!" I told him. "Or there's a washing machine in the hall! You could have washed them yourself for a dollar!"

"Nope," he said.

I was stunned. Such disregard for company resources! Not that I hold any love in my heart for that place. Just yesterday, LinkedIn sent me the suggestion that I join the paper company alumni group.

"Just as soon as I join the 'All the guys who have ditched me' group," I muttered.

But I was always a good steward of my employer's money. Why would anyone deliberately waste money? Especially when it was not necessary?

We drove to the park in Kentucky. The lodge, unfortunately, had only one room available. We were going to have to share a room for two nights. Ick. Not pleasant, but not un-doable. I would just rather not have that level of familiarity with a co-worker. Fortunately, I had brought my usual frumpy pajamas with me. Not that I think he found me in any way alluring. I had met his girlfriend, who was 15 years younger than he and I were and about 20 sizes smaller than I.

By the time we got there, it was too late to do anything but eat and go to bed. Rolando had a long conversation with his girlfriend - on the room phone - while I read a book and tried not to listen.

The next morning, he got out of bed, wrapping his sheet around him to walk into the bathroom, holding it closed with one hand while he grabbed his clothes with the other.

He had slept nude.

When he left the bathroom, after his shower, the sheet and his towels were on the floor.

Leaving your wet towels on the floor is so damn rude.

I said something to him and he told me that the maid could pick them up.

Yes, he was a spoiled rich kid.

Hotels have signs now saying that they are so conservation minded and they care and they will only change the towels daily if they are left on the floor. Towels left hanging are a sign that the customer wants to re-use them.

I have no problems whatsoever with using the same towel more than one day in a row. It is horribly wasteful to wash them every single day. But it is a bit disingenuous of the hotels to claim that they care so much. They are just counting on most peoples' natural courtesy and good home training to hang up their towels. Still, it's smart marketing and I don't blame them for it. I do wonder, however, about people who can just toss a towel to the floor and leave it there. How were they raised?

After breakfast, we went for a hike.

Rolando hated it.

Trees! And limbs! In his way! Bugs! BUGS!

Oh for pity's sake. I hate hiking and am about as big a whiner as you will ever meet if I have to walk up hills when it's not part of a gym class, but this was not bad at all. It was just pretty mountain countryside with very clearly marked paths. Birds, flowers, trees. Hiking lite.

We trudged back to the lodge and had lunch. Went back to the room, which the maid had cleaned, although I had hung the towels because I just couldn't stand it. Rolando went to look out the third floor window - and jumped back, shrieking.

"What's that? What's that?"

I looked up from my book and squinted. "Oh. A squirrel."

"But it's jumping!"

I looked up from my book again. "Yeah."


"I doubt it," I answered dryly.


"No," I said.

"We should leave," he announced. "I don't care if we have another night here. We should leave."

I thought back on the time we had already spent together: nude sleeping, towels on the floor, grouchy hiking and now, irrational fear of squirrels. How much more of this could I take?

I closed my book and stood. "Great idea," I said.

The End.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A request for help

Hello my lovely readers. What would you find to be a satisfactory ending to a completely fictional not based on reality at all novel about a woman with mean in-laws who somehow created the wonderful man who is her husband?

The gist of the story is that in-laws meet prospective daughter in law, don't like her even before they meet her, make no effort to know or like her and never give her lunch when she visits.

They send horrible presents and yell at their grandkids for eating the white meat at Thanksgiving. DIL stands up to FIL (to be) when he is mean to his granddaughter. DIL realizes FIL is just a big bully and she is no longer scared of him. She still thinks he's a jerk, though.

They tell their son two weeks before the wedding that they are not coming. If you've read from the start of this blog, you know all this. Their son says if they don't come, they'll never get to see their grandchild - much to the son's surprise and the future DIL's surprise, she is pregnant. They are OLD, people, so it is a huge surprise. You might as well call them Sarah and Abraham.

In laws grudgingly come to the wedding and eat all of son and DIL's good cheese during their 9 day stay with son and DIL, even though they claim to be lactose intolerant. They get drunk at the wedding supper. Meanwhile, DIL has a miscarriage while they are there.

But son and DIL survive in laws and they leave, never, one hopes, to return. Son tells DIL on their wedding night that his parents will never live with them.

Months later, son stands up to parents when they get upset that he is not planning to go to their house for Christmas, tell him he is "abandoning" them and that he is a "bad son." Son tells parents he is not going to take that kind of talk any more and that they can go to hell. (Or something like that.)

Son and DIL live happily ever after.

That's what I have. Well, I have 224 pages of this story in far greater detail. But I need feedback on the proposed ending. (Son standing up to parents.)

Jen on the Edge and I have already decided that a fiery crash killing in laws would not work.

For those of you who have read the whole Sly and Doris saga from the start, what would you like to happen to wrap this up?

I thank you for your feedback.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

In which I learn that logic sometimes just doesn't matter, or, How I grew to love the US Post Office

I didn't realize how amazing the US postal service was until I moved to Chile for two years. Although the post office in Chile is open until 7:00 p.m., which is an innovation I think we could use in the US, in other ways, the service was bad. Things were stolen from the mail all the time - I had friends from the US sending me candy and goodies that never arrived. They thought I was just being rude, not writing a thank you note for the Halloween candy they had sent me, but I had never gotten it. Somewhere, there was a Chilean postal employee (or a Chilean customs employee) eating my candy corn, which ticked me off because I couldn't get candy corn in Chile.

I also could not get chocolate chips - but guess what? you can chop up a candy bar pretty easily, Crisco (substitute lard, which is better than Crisco anyhow), or ziplock bags. Fortunately, when my friend Lenore came to visit, she brought an ample supply of all of those things, along with peanut butter, which was available in Chile but only to the very rich.

Before I moved to Chile, I took for granted that a cheerful, clean, uniformed mail carrier would bring my mail to my house every day.

After I had been living there for a while, I discovered why the Peace Corps told us to have our mail sent to the Peace Corps office in Santiago, whence they would have it sent to us via courier. They knew.

I discovered why when I was living in the house with Mandy, the Scottish undergrad studying Spanish and Portuguese, and Sarah, the American woman getting a PhD in political science and doing her research on the political structures of the Mapuche. Mandy and I became great friends, but Sarah bugged me because she would sit at the supper table, picking her toes and then reaching for food with her fingers. We didn't eat together much.

They got their mail delivered at the house. I never paid any attention because I got my mail at my office, via courier. I would see their mail on the stairs and think nothing of it.

But one day, Mandy and Sarah weren't home. Someone was banging and banging on the door.

Not that I was used to having any peace in that house. In the morning, someone would turn on the three school busses that were parked overnight across the street from us (no, I have no idea why - maybe that's where the drivers lived?) and let them idle for half an hour.

Although that sound is not as annoying as the horrible "I am backing up" beep that equipment in the US is required to make and that causes me to ask if anyone has done a true cost/benefit analysis of the value of that sound, as in, how many Americans are we willing to let die because they are too slow to get out of the way of machinery backing up if it means we can sleep past 7:00 a.m. on a summer morning, the rumble of idling busses is also loud enough to wake a person.

I tried to ignore the banging, but whoever it was would not go away. I finally had to answer. I signed and left my tiny room, which was not even large enough for a mattress and contained just a sleeping bag and my clothes - no door because alcoves don't have doors - and walked very carefully down the very narrow, carpeted, slippery stairs.

Once you have slipped and fallen down the stairs, you never trust them again.

I opened the door. There stood a disheveled, boozy-smelling man holding a few letters. He was wearing old black pants and a brown sweater with holes in it. No hat. No uniform. No insignia.

"I have your mail," he said.

Then why hadn't he just left it on the stoop, as he usually did?

I reached for the letters. He snatched them back and gave me the Latin American finger wave.

You know the Latin American finger wave, don't you? It's when you rock your forefinger from side to side with the hand held parallel to your body. The North American finger wave, or, more accurately, shake, has your hand perpendicular to your body with the finger going from 0 degrees down to about 60 degrees. The Latin American finger wave goes 60 degrees from upright in each direction.

And what it means is, "Absolutely, positively no. Uh uh. No way. Don't even think about it."

If you do the Latin American finger wave at a boy who is pestering you to polish your shoes (which I rarely did, as I would pay any kid who wanted to polish my shoes), he will back away, no questions asked.

The man gave me the LAFW.

"No," he said, as he withdrew the letters. He pointed to the doorframe. "You owe me 170 pesos." (About 50 cents at the time.)

"What are you talking about?"

"Look," he demanded. I looked. There were hash marks on the door frame. "I've delivered all these letters and you haven't paid."

I had no idea what he was talking about. "Ten pesos a letter," he said impatiently.

"Are you nuts?" I asked. "These letters all have stamps!"

"The stamp is just to get it from one post office to another," he said. "But you have to pay for delivery!"

I didn't believe him. The whole idea was crazy. But he wouldn't give me the mail and I knew that this wasn't something I could wait out, plus I was worried he would bang on the door again the next day and I would never have any peace. I gave him the money and threw the letters on the kitchen counter.

The next day, I went to the post office and asked one of the clerks. "The postman told me I have to pay him for delivering stamped letters!" I said in disbelief.

"Well of course," she said. "The stamp just gets it from one post office to another."

I shook my head. "Why doesn't the stamp include delivery?"

She rolled her eyes. It was so obvious. "Because all the houses are different distances from the post office! How do you decide how much to charge for the stamp if you don't know how far from the post office the house is?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In which I get my purse repaired

On that trip to Morocco where Primo and I both bought rugs and wasn't that a surprise, my first mission was to repair my old purse. Don’t laugh. My accessories are very important to me. I buy secondhand so I can afford to buy quality. A used high quality purse is a far better deal than a new poorly made one. But even high quality items wear out and then we must repair them if possible because we are of The Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste.

And this was the perfect purse. It met all my specs. My sister mocks me and my purse specs, but I know what I want and why should I settle for less? I want a purse with a strap long enough to go over my shoulder and leave my hands free because unlike the queen of England, who apparently carries nothing but a hanky in her purse and has people to do everything for her, I open my own car doors, pay for my own things, and carry my own grocery bags. I do not want to have to put my purse down just to remove my keys. But I also want shorter handles to hold in my hand in case I want to carry the purse that way.

My purse needs to have a flap or an easy snap closure so that when I toss it onto the passenger seat as I am getting into the car, the contents do not spill out.

I need room for things. I have prescription sunglasses and regular glasses, a Swiss army knife, a camera, a smartypants phone, a wallet, aspirin, bandaids, a handkerchief, a comb, a calendar, lip gloss, face powder, a small notepad, pens that no I will not lend you get your own pen, and emergency chocolate in my purse. Tiny little purses do not work for that much stuff.

Plus I want to have my stuff organized, so I want dividers and pockets. But I don’t want bling. I don’t want tacky.

The black snakeskin purse I had bought at a fancy consignment shop in Memphis met all my specs and had served me well for a few years, but now was getting worn on the edges. I had discovered the Rabat leather repair guy when my sandals broke on my first trip to Morocco. The leather guy, whose shop was three blocks from Steve and Megan’s apartment, had fixed them in two hours for about three dollars.

I had tried to have the purse repaired in Memphis, but none of the shoe or leather repair stores could do it. They claimed they didn’t have the equipment. Fine, I thought. I’ll just take this purse to a third-world country where they don’t want me to throw it away and buy a new one instead. I’ll show you.

I took the purse to the leather guy. He had a tiny little storefront with a counter that opened onto the street. When I showed him the purse, he looked back at his equipment and shook his head. “C’est pas posible, madame,” he told me. He did not have the proper equipment.

Crap. I had brought the purse all this way just to fail?

“Try Fez,” Steve suggested. “Fez is known for its leather works.”

Now we had to go to Fez, which wasn’t a hardship, as it is a very neat place and we had planned to visit anyhow. Primo and I took the train there. On the way, we met a young Moroccan man sitting in our train compartment. Ahmet spoke almost flawless English, explaining that he had been to the US for his heart surgery. “I love New York!” he said. “I love U.S.!” His voice dropped. “You know New York Yankees? My favorite!”

He offered to show us around. I told him we had a guide for the next day, but we didn’t have plans for the afternoon. It is necessary to have a guide in Fez to avoid being lost in the labyrinth of the medieval city. From the air, Fez probably looks like a few spiderwebs laid on top of each other. I didn’t have breadcrumbs or a big ball of string, so a human guide was the next best thing.

After we dropped our bags at the hotel, Ahmet gave us a great tour. We saw the water seller in his red costume and big red and yellow hat, holding out his tin cup from which many people would have drunk, which meant we went thirsty. We dodged the medina taxis, which are donkeys, and their leavings. Vendors beckoned to us from their stalls of raw meat, sheepsheads, and spices. Cats sat resolutely in front of the meat stands, looking up at the counter and hoping for a handout.

He didn’t take us to an expensive restaurant and then abandon us as the guide had done when Steve and I had gone to Fez during my August visit and he didn’t even take us to a carpet store, which seems to be standard operating procedure for Moroccan guides. You think used car salesmen are bad? Try a Moroccan carpet dealer. They are pros and we are amateurs, as Primo and I learned later.

I asked Ahmet to take me to a leather guy and showed him my purse.

“I take for you!” he said eagerly.

I was reluctant to entrust my precious snakeskin purse to him and demurred, but Primo said, “I think it will be fine.”

I hugged the purse to my chest. Was it safe? Would I be abandoning my purse to an uncertain fate? Even when I was employed and had money, I had an unnatural attachment to my shoes and purses, probably because they are the only items of bodily adornment whose size is constant regardless of if my size is constant. No matter what, I always take an 8.5 shoe and purses have no size limits.

Now that I had no income – and with every dollar Primo spent on me, I was even more painfully aware that I needed to rectify that situation – I was really concerned about my accessories. I didn’t want to lose them because I could not afford to replace them.

“No, really, I take,” Ahmet insisted.

“How much?” I asked.

“Not very much,” he promised. “I bring back after supper.”

I reluctantly handed my purse to him and gave him 100 dirhams, which is about $12. If the purse couldn’t be repaired, it was worthless to me anyhow, and if Ahmet absconded with the $12 – well, we had gotten that much at least out of our tour with him.

We walked around the hotel and watched the sunset from a hill overlooking the city. The fields were a mixture of green and brown and were dotted with sheep. Three little boys unsuccessfully tried to herd one group of sheep. The stone walls of the city glowed golden as the rays hit them as the sun descended, then fell into shadow.

Where was my purse?

Primo and I found a small café where we got real Coke, the kind with cane sugar, and these fabulous sandwiches of ground lamb and onions fried on a griddle with an egg cracked on top at the last minute and then piled onto a fresh baguette. The only time we got sick from eating the food in Morocco was when Primo had salad at the American club. None of the other food bothered us.

I fretted that my purse and money were gone, never to return, but Primo assured me that Ahmet was trustworthy.

As we walked back to the hotel, ready to surrender for the night, two hours after I had given my purse to Ahmet, we saw a figure running toward us and waving. It was Ahmet. And he had my purse.

“I go in hotel to find you but you were not there!” he said. “Here!” He thrust the purse at me. “And it cost only 50 dirhams. Here is the money.” He handed me the change.

I looked at the purse. It looked brand new. Ahmet’s guy had repaired it perfectly. And in two hours.

I had been wrong to doubt him. My purse was perfect.

I opened my wallet and looked at Primo. He nodded. “Keep that change,” I told Ahmet. “And here’s some more for your great guide services.” I handed him another 100 dirhams.” I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing – he hadn’t asked for any money – but he had shared his knowledge and time with us and hadn’t tried to cheat us. It was worth it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In which Primo and I both buy Moroccan rugs and spend way more than we should have

There is almost nothing worse than regretting a purchase not made. You can almost always find a use for something you buy that you end up not wanting – if you can’t return it, you can eBay it or give it as a wedding present, but if you don’t buy that great rug in Morocco, you will regret it maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and then for the rest of your life.

Such was my thinking when I did the research on oriental carpets before Primo and I went to Morocco. I had been through Crazy Hassan’s sales pitch the first time I went, but had resisted. I didn’t need a rug, didn’t want one, saw nothing that moved me. But I decided that should I fall in love with something, I wanted to be prepared – have some numbers in my head.

This despite the fact that I was unemployed. My desire for consumer goods was stronger than my desire for long-term survival. If I was going to be a bag lady, I would be a bag lady with a great Moroccan rug.

Yes, you are allowed to laugh at my stupidity.

I did my internet research, then Megan took us to a government-run co-op with fixed prices in Rabat. We took photos and notes – by gosh, Primo and I are both engineers at heart and he’s one in real life and we were going to approach this scientifically. “You can look in Fez,” Megan warned us, “but don’t buy a rug there. Everything they have there, you can find in Rabat and it’s a lot cheaper in Rabat. Do not buy a rug in Fez!”

Of course, we forgot everything she said when our guide (not Ahmet, but the one we had reserved for a full day) took us into that Fez carpet shop. Just to look. “We don’t want to buy a rug,” I told the guide.

“Oh is OK. This is rug museum,” he told me, as he held the door open and waved us in.

That’s when we discovered that buying a rug is like buying a car – you check Consumer Reports, write down your specs – and then fall in love with the way the car feels, its sound system and its color.

Primo, who truly had no intention of buying a rug, saw one he liked. He just liked it. The same way he had liked the bowl at the pottery place earlier in the evening. As a matter of fact, he had done something I had never seen him do before. He said, “I want this.” And he paid what I considered to be a rather high price for a piece of pottery. But when you like a piece of art, you like it. And it’s a lovely bowl.*

The same thing happened with the rug. He liked it. It is gorgeous. And unique – not antique – apparently, by definition in the rug world, it must be older than 100 years. This one is not over 100, but it is old.

“Let me handle this,” I muttered to Primo. “I’ve done this kind of thing before.” I was shrewd. I had bargained my way through South America, telling taxi drivers in Quito and La Paz that I was not going to pay the gringo tax so they better give me a better price. It didn’t always work. Sometimes I ended up walking, but I didn’t pay more than I should.

But I had never tried to buy a rug from a Moroccan rug salesman.

First, I denied any interest. “No, we are not interested in buying a rug. Yes, that’s lovely. But we are curious. How much would a rug like that cost?” I waved casually at the rug Primo liked.

“For you, I make good price,” Mohammed, the rug salesman, told me.

“And what would that price be?” I pressed him.

“Would you like some tea?” Mohammed asked. He clapped his hands and spoke sharply to one of the assistants who were unfurling rug after rug on the floor.

Then I rejected the hospitality that would inspire in me a compulsion to reciprocate. “No,” I told him. “No tea.” I don’t like regular tea, but the Moroccan tea of boiling water poured over a glassful of crushed mint leaves and then garnished with four tablespoons of sugar is pretty good. Still, I didn’t want us getting involved in a long social visit. I just wanted to know how much the darn rug cost. “What does the rug cost?”

Mohammed ignored me. I don’t know if that’s how he treats all customers or if that’s how he treats women. I supposed it didn’t matter. Either way, he continued to show us more rugs. They were all gorgeous. They were all without a price.

I saw one I liked. “How much would this rug cost for someone who was interested in buying a rug?”

Mohammed snapped his fingers at his assistant, who unrolled more rugs. “Look at this one.”

And we continued. Me asking how much the rug cost, Mohammed unfurling rug after rug. Finally, after what seemed like hours but was probably only 15 minutes, Mohammed answered the question. I pointed to the rug Primo liked and asked again. “How much would a rug like this cost?”

Five thousand dollars,” he answered.

I gasped. Primo gasped. “We cannot pay that price,” he said.

I knew in the US that Oriental rug prices can be five thousand dollars and more, but I also knew that in Morocco, they were not getting that kind of money.

“Don’t buy a rug in Fez,” Megan had warned. “But if you do, offer them 25% of what they ask.” Twenty five percent of $5,000 seemed so low. Typical amateur mistake – we let the salesman set the reference price.

“Our price would be an insult to you,” I told him politely.

“Please. Just tell me. I give you a number, now you give me a number.

“OK. One thousand dollars.” There. That should shut him up.

It didn’t.

“Four thousand five hundred,” he countered.

“One thousand.”

“I must sell a rug. Look, today I get the bill from my son´s school.” He showed us a fax from the University of Pennsylvania – a tuition bill. Not my problem.

“One thousand.”

“Four thousand.”

I was tired and hungry and annoyed that we had wasted half an hour or two hours or however long it had been looking at rugs we had no intention of buying and certainly could not afford. We turned to leave. “Goodbye,” I said. The willingness to walk away. That is the secret to any negotiation.

“OK, OK. Twelve hundred dollars. That is my best offer.”

I looked at Primo. He shrugged. I threw out my response. “And one thousand for the other one.”

“OK,” Mohammed answered.

OK? Crap! I had just spent one thousand dollars and Primo had spent more than that on rugs we had never planned to buy. How had that happened?

We paid – Mohammed took American Express and Visa – while the assistants were sewing the rugs tightly into woven plastic bags. “I have these delivered to hotel for you,” Mohammed assured us. “No charge.” I would think not, after the profitable evening he had had, although I worried that maybe he was lying and we would never see the rugs again.

No, I am not a trusting person at all, but then, I’ve never lost money in a Ponzi scheme or to a con man.

The rugs were waiting when we returned to the hotel. We took them back to Steve and Megan’s. The next day, Megan took us back to the Rabat rug co-op, where all the products have price tags.

“Look!” I said. “That´s like the rug we got.”

Primo walked over to the rug to examine it. “Stop!” he said. “Don't come any closer.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“You really, really do not want to see the price tag. Just trust me on this.”

“Oh no!” I said. “How bad is it?”

He quickly assured me. “Oh, it’s not that bad! Don’t worry about it.”

Except he was not being exactly truthful. We returned to Morocco again after we got married and got a third rug. In Rabat. With the coaching of a friend of Megan’s who had been a Peace Corps volunteer with a Moroccan textile co-op and who knew rugs.

We paid $400 for our third rug.

* Which shattered into pieces during shipping back to the US, all of which he painstakingly glued back together.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In which we open the door to the asylum and slam it closed again

It's been a while since I posted anything about Sly and Doris. It has been pretty calm because I have had almost no interaction with them for the past two years. Primo's Christmas presents to me have been that I do not have to go with him to visit them, which works out well for all of us except Primo, who has to suffer alone.

I did send Doris an email for her birthday, which was the day after their refrigerator broke and the same day as Sly had surgery. I wrote this:

I'm sorry to hear that this day has been so difficult for you but am glad to know that the surgery went well. I'm really sorry to hear about your refrigerator! What a mess. It seems as if life can never go smoothly. I hope you were able to rescue most of your perishables and that this is the last of the drama for a while.

Doris responded:

Dear Golddigger,It meant a great deal to me that you would send a message regarding our extra stress at this time. The guy who delivered the new fridge arrived a little past nine--he was alone and extremely competent in measuring just what had to be moved to facilitate bringing the new fridge in and old one out. He helped enormously by emptying the old and assisting in filling the new. He left just 10 minutes before we left for the hospital. The cats were three hours past their suppertime--such meowing.Thanks for thinking of us, Doris

I answered,

I'm so glad the delivery man was helpful. That timing sure was tight.Our cats are not happy when their supper is delayed, either. They will let us know.I've been meaning to tell you: I love those grocery bags you gave me. I use them all the time. They are perfect for groceries and library books. We took them to Germany and to France - it was great to be able to tuck something small into my purse in case we found something we wanted to buy. I used to carry a backpack just in case, but much prefer these bags. They are so convenient and pretty.

Which inspired this note to Primo, who shared it with me (of course - I am his wife):

Dear Primo,
I decided not to send this message to Golddigger without your clearance. Let me know what you think.

Dear Golddigger,
I hope that someday you will welcome my wish to say, Love,Doris. It has hurt so much not to be able to narrow our ideological gaps. You and my son love each another. I want to love you as well. Enough said tonight, I'm not all together.

You might want to tell Primo that throughout his day not one health care worker, including docs, RNs, and subordinate personnel knew enough to say "lie" vs. lay. When we saw Maria for a brief time on Sunday, we asked how things were going at college, and she enthusiastically responded "good," instead of well. We didn't correct her. I remember how you chided us at the dinner table at Stephanie's house when Dad mentioned/corrected Maria about "these ones." One is either fur or agin maintaining English usage standards. The most egregious example I ran into recently was a quotation by billionaire, Mayor Michael Bloomburg of NYC wherein he talked about young people "graduating college."

I stormed upstairs as soon as I read this. I was so furious I could hardly breathe.

"Does your mother really think it is ideology that separates us? I couldn't care less about her political beliefs! She's the one who doesn't like what I think! But you and I don't agree and I'M MARRIED TO YOU. Obviously, political ideology is not as important to me as it is to her."

I stopped to draw a big breath.

"And the thing with Maria WAS NOT ABOUT SAYING 'THESE ONES'! I wouldn't have jumped on your dad for correcting an actual error that she'd made, even though I think he is mean about it and it's inappropriate. I stood up for her because she had not made a mistake. She had said "lemon EXtract" and your dad said she had said "lemon exTRACT" and was jumping all over her for it!"

"I know," Primo said. "I was there."

"So they've twisted it so that I am the villain here! Your dad couldn't possibly have made a mistake! Oh, this makes me SO MAD!"

Primo was laughing. I guess he was right - what can you do with this stuff but laugh? We're dealing with crazy people.

"I already told my mother not to send this to you."

"She better not," I stormed, "Or I will have to set her straight."

"And I told her that that incident was about lemon extract."

"Did you tell her that it is crazy to be obsessed with language when you are in the hospital and people are cutting you up? That perhaps what's more important is are they doing a good job on the medical stuff?"

He shook his head. "No point."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In which my glasses are stolen in Honduras

I think I have told you guys I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile and that when I completed my two year stint (it's two years, people, TWO years - you authors whose characters join the Peace Corps and come home again after a year or decide month by month whether to stay longer - you have it all wrong. Please. A tiny little bit of research - - will give you the basics), I came back to the US over land.

One hundred forty nine hours on buses, trains and a few planes, including the 22-hour ride from Salta to Formosa (Argentina) - the ride with the guy who threw up and no air conditioning.

This was also the ride where the little kid in the seat in front of me had one of those noisy toy guns. It made a squealing, whirring sound every time the kid pulled the trigger, which was about every four seconds. At the beginning of this ride, before I realized that the ticket seller had lied to me and it was a 22-hour trip and not an 11-hour one, I thought 11 hours of a kid making that kind of noise was not a good prospect.

I looked around at the other passengers. Nobody else seemed to be bothered. This does seem to be a Latin American trait - they are pretty easygoing when it comes to kids.

Even though I had already lived in Latin America for two years and had become far less Type A than I used to be, I had not adopted that "que sera que sera" attitude when it came to children. As in, I did not think it was fine for the person next to me on the bus to have a seven year old in her lap when that meant that said child was pushing into my space. I didn't think it was OK for kids to run up and down the aisle of the bus, screaming.

But I was the stranger. It wasn't my country. I had to suck it up. When in Rome, etc, etc.

But 11 hours? With that noise?


I stood, leaned over the seat, got the kid's attention, and asked him to hand me the toy.

He did.


I sat down and opened my book.

The kid watched me, stunned. Then his mother finally turned around, distracted, no doubt, by the peace and quiet that had descended upon us.

I handed the toy back to her and said sweetly, "Please don't let him play with this on the bus. The noise is very disturbing to the other passengers."

The mom was so shocked - perhaps that anyone would be bothered by her kid and yes I know parents, of necessity, become deaf to the constant racket that seems to accompany children - that she did as I asked.

Wait. That's not the main story. The story I want to tell is about when someone stole my glasses out of my backpack while I was wearing my backpack.

I had taken the bus to San Pedro Sula, which is a pit in the middle of Honduras. How can a country that has the lovely city of Tegucigalpa also have La Ceiba (pit) and San Pedro Sula?

The buses in Latin America vary from the very nice ejecutivo buses in Chile, Argentina and Mexico, with comfortable cushioned and reclining seats, a toilet, a TV and bingo. Blackout bingo. Not five in a line bingo. You don't want to shout "Bingo!" when you have only five. We played bingo on the plane in Peru. Don't have a movie? Or don't have time for a movie? There's always bingo.

Vary from nice buses to the old Duchess County ISD school buses that are no longer suitable for transporting American schoolchildren but are now perfect for Latin American adults, their children, their chickens, and their pirated cassette tapes. Three to a seat on the school buses. People and chickens in the aisles.

The bus to San Pedro Sula was probably one of the old school buses. Very crowded. As I got off the bus, my big backpack on my back and my small daypack clutched in front of me, I heard someone whisper, "They're robbing you."

To which I paid no attention because I was trying, in the crush, to get out of the bus.

It wasn't until I opened the pocket on my backpack that I discovered my glasses were missing.

My glasses! Who would steal glasses?!

I whirled around, looking for someone wearing my glasses. Only, because I didn't have my glasses on, I couldn't see very well. I began to cry tears of rage. I was DONE with Honduras. I had already been robbed in Tegucigalpa and then been cheated by a cabbie in La Ceiba.

My hat had been stolen from my head in Tegucigalpa. I was standing on a street corner, minding my own business, when I felt a "whoosh" on top of my head. I put my hand up to check and discovered that the hideous $2 baseball cap I had bought in Paraguay was gone.

If you're going to steal, at least steal something nice.

I ran in the direction I thought the thief had gone, trying to remember the Spanish word for "thief." "Ladron, ladron!" I shouted.

The crowd parted way.

I couldn't run well because 1. I can never run fast or well because I am a lazy, slow person and 2. I had my big backpack on my back.

I demanded of an onlooker: "Did you see who stole my hat?"

Yes, he told me, but he didn't stop the thief because what if he'd had a gun?

Oh for pity's sake.

In La Ceiba, the cabbie I asked told me that the only ferry out to the Bay Islands was in 20 minutes so yes, I had to go with him. He careened over the dirt road to the port, took my money, and left me at the isolated terminal, "terminal" meaning "a bench on the beach with no place to buy anything to eat or drink and no place to pee."

It took me half an hour to realize that no, the ferry was not leaving in 20 minutes and it took me another four hours to realize that the ferry was leaving in five hours.

My Honduras experiences had not been so good.

When I discovered I had been robbed again, just a few days later, but this time of something far more difficult and expensive to replace, I reached my limit. I started to cry. I flagged down a cab and gave him the address of my hotel.

(I use the word "hotel" loosely. I was staying at the South and Central America Handbook's "F" and "G" lodgings, which was the class of room with a shared bathroom and maybe windows. Maybe not. I paid between $4 and $10 a night. The $10 places weren't necessarily fancy - they were just in Argentina and Costa Rica, which are expensive compared to the rest of Latin America.)

I told the cabbie what had happened.

"Well, it is getting close to Christmas, you know," he told me.

So the thieves were getting their shopping done early by stealing my glasses?

He continued, "Don't worry! I know all the thieves around here! I know where they will take your glasses to sell. We can get them back."

I guess there is a big market for used prescription glasses in Honduras.

Then he drove ten blocks to get to my hotel, which was actually two blocks from the bus station.

Thief, meet thief.

He did, however, say that he would bring my glasses back to me and leave them with the clerk.


I checked into my "G" lodgings, dragged my backpack up to the cinderblock room with one tiny window up in the corner, a single bed with what I hoped was clean sheets - sometimes it is better not have one's glasses - and a cement floor that also did not bear too close a look, dropped my things, and returned to the desk to talk to the clerk about my glasses. He did not offer much hope, but I kept thinking, "Who would want my glasses? They won't do anyone else any good!"

I left the hotel in search of food. I couldn't find a cab that wasn't going to charge me the Gringo Tax. Frustrated, I started to walk. Then I heard a kid say something in English. His parents were naturalized US citizens from Honduras and he had been born in New Orleans, where they now lived. They were in town visiting family. The mom asked if they could give me a ride.

Thrilled to find someone who was actually being nice to me, I accepted.

If this were a different kind of blog, this would be where I told you that they kidnapped me and tortured me and I barely escaped with my life, but this is a rainbows and butterflies blog, where everyone lives happily ever after (mostly), so guess what? They took me to Wendy's and bought my supper and were appalled that my glasses had been stolen. Then they took me back to the hotel. Where the clerk looked at me as if I was crazy when I asked if the cabbie had brought back my glasses.

I spent the rest of the trip either squinting when I was inside or trying to see through the dark lenses of my prescription sunglasses. I can tell you that the experience of watching the movie "Clueless" in a Mexico City cinema is not enhanced by watching it with sunglasses.