unexpected events

Writing prompt: An unexpected event

This prompt is more stymying than expected. I’ve found myself turning it over in my head, trying to think of something unexpected which has recently occurred (besides my dog almost dying), and I can’t really think of anything. Nothing big, anyway—there are the usual small things. Coupons in the mail I didn’t expect, an unplanned-for phone call, a last-minute change of schedule. But those aren’t really “events”. Those are just … life. The heyday of the everyday.

I am a routine sort of person. I like routines; the predictability of them. I like schedules. I enjoy the soothing reliability of to-do lists, check boxes, and calendars breaking up the day’s hour-by-hour. I am the type of person who, when working, likes to leave the house at the same time each morning. I usually know what I want to order before I’ve ever looked at the menu—oftentimes before I’ve entered the restaurant.

It’s not that I’m unadventurous. Or maybe it is? I don’t see why that’s a bad thing, honestly. I enjoy stability and reliability. It’s not that I can’t handle surprises or I’m incapable of going with the flow. It’s more that … I guess it’s that I’ve had my fill of instability, and now I prefer the comfort and reassurance of a routine.

The result is a life with very few unexpected events. Over the past year, the most unexpected event that comes to mind is our dog almost dying.

The unexpected event of 2015 was … hmmmm. I guess our spur-of-the-moment trip to San Francisco? We were sitting in the living room talking about my husband’s upcoming weekend—I think it was a 3 or 4-day weekend—and he said he wanted to do something different, like drive straight to San Francisco. While he was talking, I started googling touristy stuff in San Francisco, and looked at Alcatraz. There were tickets available for Sunday afternoon, and I said, “Hey, we can buy tickets to Alcatraz.”

So we bought the tickets, packed the car, and drove down. It was about a 10 hour drive. We arrived shortly before a friend flying in from England to go to Burning Man landed, which was serendipitous. That first night, we ended up sleeping in the car (which was broken into on the street the next day). The following night, we stayed at a campsite a few miles outside the city, and the third night we camped at Crater Lake. It was a really fun trip.

No unexpected events come to mind for 2014 or 2013, happily.

2012 was the Year of the Psycho Neighbor– an unexpected and surreal situation which ended with physical assaults on our family, broken bones, and us having to a file a restraining order. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced—the more we tried to shut ourselves away from them and detach entirely, the more frothy-at-the-mouth this guy got. “Unexpected” somehow doesn’t seem strong enough for how baffling and unreal it was.

You hear about harassment situations, but it’s hard to comprehend how intensely off some people actually are until you actually have to deal with someone like that … there’s always some part of you that secretly, deep down, thinks, “Oh, I could’ve handled them. I could’ve talked ‘em down.” No. It turns out some people can’t be handled. Some people can’t be talked down. Some people are just unhinged.

Nothing unexpected in 2011 or 2010, happily.

In 2009, a family member passed away, beloved to those I love dearly. I was fond of the family member, but did not know them well, due to long illness and the nature of said illness. Even so, the actual death was a shock, and a devastation of grief crashed in the wake of it. The influence of their life, love, and childcare has rippled across our lives in countless ways large and small.

In 2008, I was in my first motorcycle accident. I’d had my learner’s permit for two months, and was riding my yellow Ninja 250 home from a practice ride. A white van ran a stop sign and t-boned me. It was a 45 mph street, but I was going a little under the speed limit. The white van left the scene. I came to surrounded by strangers, with a man asking if I could wiggle my toes. I asked where my motorcycle was, and he told me they were setting it upright—that it was unharmed. The police arrived before the ambulance. I had a mild concussion. The ambulance was blue instead of fire-truck red, so I refused a ride to the hospital. I found my helmet on the side of the road, and an officer asked if I was sure I could ride home. I explained my house was less than 5 minutes away, and I didn’t want to pay $1000 for an ambulance ride when my husband could just drive me to the hospital. They offered to escort me to the house, so I accepted, which is how I came to end one a practice ride with a police escort.

In 2007, my husband was riding his motorcycle to work on Black Friday when a car t-boned him. He had just come out of the 15 mph roundabout, and was in the straightaway heading toward the stoplight. There were two traffic lanes going the same direction and a single lane going the opposite, with businesses on either side. According to the witnesses/ police report, a car driver in the far-left lane saw a car waiting to leave a driveway exit on the left side of the road, so they stopped and politely waved them into traffic. The car took the invitation/ opening and darted forward to cross the two lanes of traffic to the driveway on the other side, ignoring the motorcyclist in the way.

A week later, our house was flooded in a natural disaster. It was especially unexpected because the last time the area had been hit with a 100 year flood (a decade earlier), our neighbors said the floodwaters had never even approached our house. This time, though, the dyke holding back the river broke. Apparently, it was in some amount of disrepair and with the pounding strain of rain and river, it just gave in a great gush of mud and water. Our house, despite being raised 18 inches off the ground, got a good 6 inches of flood water inside the house proper.

So 2007 had two unexpected events, which should be enough for any year. Except that was also the year my grandma died and I found out I had a small inheritance, so really it had four unexpected events.

In 2006 my husband brought me flowers for Mother’s Day. That was unexpected, because by then flowers were less common than arguments. I liked the flowers, though. Flowers are lovely. I can’t remember most of our arguments from that year, but I remember the flowers. The separation in September was not an unexpected event.

My grandpa died in 2005. That was the unexpected event of the year. I knew grandpa wouldn’t live forever, obviously, but I didn’t expect him to die while I was still in my 20s. He played golf and drove his Cadillac around right up until the last year or so of his life. I thought grandpa would live until his late 90s, still pulling wooden nickels out of my ear and dandling my son on his knee. They said at his funeral that when my mom died, all the fire went out from him.

Mom’s death was one of the unexpected events of 2003. I don’t have an unexpected event of 2004. I don’t remember 2004. It was a black hole. In 2003, two of the women I loved most dearly died by suicide. One in spring, one in fall. My best friend and my mom.

I cannot say my son’s birth in 2002 was unexpected, because it was not only expected, it was scheduled. He was induced. I could lie and say the emergency c-section which followed was a surprise, but somehow it wasn’t. It was definitely an emergency and not planned, but for some reason, I’d been expecting a c-section since the first trimester.

So when they told me he wasn’t turned right and his heart rate was dropping during labor, I didn’t feel panicked at the thought of a c-section. Just sort of calm. Like, all right, so this is happening, and I had this weird sensation I get sometimes that’s kind of like déjà vu, but not quite. Not like I’ve experienced it before, but more … as if events are unfolding exactly as they are supposed to. In retrospect, it was quite the curiosity. I can’t explain it. I have no idea why I was so full of conviction the birth would be a c-section, but I was.

In April of 2002, my husband woke up at dawn and collected armfuls of pussy willow buds and flowers, and covered every surface of our living room with chocolates and flora. That was unexpected.

The unexpected event of 2001 was probably the positive pregnancy test and my husband getting laid off a week later from the plant nursery, both occurring nearly two months after our wedding day. Wham-bam, one after the other. You know how people say bad things come in threes? Writing this out, I think they come in pairs.

Unplanned pregnancy + Layoff.

Suicide + suicide.

Accident + flood.

Reviewing this, I realize something else: apparently, I see unexpected events as emergencies or tragedies. When I think of the happy moments in my life, they were not unexpected, but worked toward and planned. Expected (except for, obviously, finding out we were pregnant—which, while happy, was complicated).

Weddings, births, graduations, parties, holidays, celebrations in general … we see them coming. We anticipate them, plan them, and, well, expect them. I had a surprise party once when I was 17, but since becoming mom of the house myself, those are sort of a thing of the past, haha. So I guess I do try to arrange my life to avoid the unexpected, as I associate unexpected events with tragedy, heartbreak, trauma, and instability.

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caught in between 10 and 20

Kidling began high school this week.

It’s a strange moment. Weird to be the parent of a high schooler. He grew up really fast. They tell you that, when he’s a baby and toddler–everyone tells you that. “Treasure these years, they’ll go by so fast.”

And you’re thinking, one day at a time, 365 days a year. Diaper after diaper.

In the moment, it doesn’t feel fast. Dealing with midnight feedings and potty training and pooptastrophes and meltdowns. Soothing a hand across a sweaty brow after yet another nightmare. Listening to story after story about dinosaurs and robots and lasers and legos.

It doesn’t feel fast.

But then, somehow, 2 months has become 18 months has become 5 years has become 8 years, and I find myself blinking and rubbing my eyes as I peer backward through time, wondering if it was only three years hence he was starting kindergarten.

And now even that was 6 years ago.

When I was 14, I still thought parents knew what they were doing–that they at least had a clue on this whole “parenting” ride. That it wasn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants gig. Now, of course, I know the deal.

Back then, I remember, I tended to group the adults around me roughly by age.

Youngish adults in their 20s were hard to take seriously, like too-old teenagers, just barely out of high school themselves. Too much my older brother, not enough my parents. When hired as teachers at my high school, I smirked and joked through their classes, viewing them less as authority figures and more as co-conspirators.

Adults between 30ish and 60ish had that parental vibe of authority, the automatic clip to their voice that adults with long practice dealing with recalcitrant youth acquire. I took them a little more seriously. I tended to like and respect them, and seek their approval.

Anyone over 60 was grandparent status in my eyes, and had a little extra bump of authority from the expectation of a lifetime of lived experience.

I remember disliking adults who made presumptions on me–who assumed I would follow their directions/ orders because they were the adult and I was the child, or thought they could get me to respond positively to them if they tried to talk to me “on my level,” or tried to be buddy-buddy with me. I didn’t like adults I perceived as being dishonest, unfair, or manipulative.

I didn’t mind rules or boundaries, so long as I  felt they were fair, clearly communicated, and fairly enforced.

I try to recall how I felt back then, how I related to adults, in raising and dealing with and talking to my son. But it’s a fine line to walk, because in the end, he’s not me. He’s similar to me in personality and interests in a lot of ways, but he’s not me, and it’s not fair to treat him like me.2 … I have to keep reminding myself of that.

I’m proud of him. He’s a really great kid. Polite, compassionate, intelligent, witty, good-tempered. We recently got his state test scores back, and he scored above-average for his grade level in the school, the school district, and the state in every subject.

I’m a little nervous about the next four years. For me, high school was not a good time. But then, public education in general was less of a learning experience and more of a prolonged bully gauntlet–my son doesn’t seem to be having the same experience. He’s run into a few bullies–the usual sort, projecting their misery from abusive homes outward–but has thus far handled them firmly and gracefully, with the support and advice of myself and other adults. I’ve been impressed by his composure and self-possession thus far, and I am more hopeful than concerned about his high school experiences.

another 30 days of prompts

I enjoyed that last 30 day prompt I did, last spring. It got me blogging again (in spurts) and using my scheduling tool so I didn’t feel so bad about a neglected blog in between times. So I looked for a few more to fill out over the next several months. See how it goes.

30 day writing challenge

Prompt: The furthest away from home you have ever been (~1000 words)

I think the furthest away from home I remember being is Hawaii, in 2007, as a sort of make-up honeymoon.

I’ve been in Germany, Paris, and Wales. But I don’t remember it. Frankly, I think my parents were being supremely unfair to even take an infant on such travels. It doesn’t count as traveling if you can’t remember it!

Anyway, back to the make-up honeymoon. It kind of begins in 2001, when we got married– a small ceremony and no honeymoon to speak of; partially due to finances and partially due to cultural pressure. We were mormon at the time, and not getting married in the temple had an element of shame attached to it.

Fast forward a few years, and in 2006 we were having some issues and separated. We reconciled a few months later. Shortly after my grandmother passed away. I was surprised to learn I would receive a small inheritance. Of course, the first thing we did was pay off several debts and put some money into savings—but I also wanted to treat my husband.

At the point we went on the trip, we’d moved back in together and been going to marriage counseling for almost 9 months—working on reconciliation for nearly 10 months. Some people said it was a bad idea to splurge the inheritance funds on a fancy trip when our reconciliation was still so “new,” but to me it seemed more than worthwhile.

Our separation wasn’t because of a difference in values, or because we fell out of love. It was communication issues, plain and simple. Both of us feeling unappreciated. For six years, he’d worked long and difficult hours at often thankless positions to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table.

And now, when it came time for it, he’d actually listened and gone to the effort of making the changes he could to improve our marriage. He’d communicated the changes he needed from me. Not many people do that, y’know. Not many people have the strength or willingness to lean into the discomfort of confronting their own biases, their own entrenched habits and bad behaviors. But my husband has that strength, because he’s awesome.

He found ways to show his appreciation for my contributions as a wife, mother, and life partner. On a daily basis, he made concerted efforts to be present, generous, respectful, compassionate, and thoughtful—to leave work at work, to develop good stress-resolution coping skills, to communicate his needs. We were working through our problems.

So as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t a risk or bad idea at all. It was an opportunity to take the honeymoon we never got to have. The only regret I have is that I didn’t buy the trip through Costco Travel—I used some online travel package place, and they kinda sucked in terms of price to value. I could have gotten a way better deal through Costco Travel. I know it sounds like I’m totally pimpin’ as a salesperson, but for real—I spent about $3.5k for about a week and a half on what was advertised as a 5 star hotel room (it really was not) on the beachfront (I guess three blocks away is kind of the beachfront).

We also got a rental car, luau night, and a magic show. After a few days, we realized the spare tire on our rental car had a rusted screw jammed into it (clearly not put in by us—the rust was old and spreading onto the tire rubber as well), so we took it back to the dealership. I’d specifically paid for a convertible, and they tried to push us into a sedan. We ended up getting the last convertible on the lot, a Sebring or something like that. While on the trip, I made the mistake of pricing out the exact same package through Costco Travel and found out we could have stayed in one of the super nice ocean view resorts right on the beach, gotten two extra days, and saved money.

Eeeeerrrrrghghhhhh.

So yeah, that’s the only thing I regret.

The rest of it was amazing, though. We had a really fantastic time, with just the right balance of touristy activities and self-guided island wandering. I tried sushi for the first time, and there was this one day when we rented mopeds and whizzed around Honolulu. As it turns out, they don’t have helmet laws on Oahu (which is utter insanity), and realistically speaking, all hours are kind of rush hour traffic in Honolulu, but we were literally riding through what is colloquially accepted as “rush hour traffic,” that is, 5 o’clock traffic. It was terrifying and exhilarating.

When I began riding motorcycle in 2008, I’d often think back to that experience and tell myself, “You survived riding a moped without any gear at all in rush-hour Honolulu traffic. You can do this.”

We drank pineapple juice every morning and ate mahi-mahi at the restaurant every night. We would get up early, just as the sun was rising, to walk or snorkel at the nearly deserted beaches. I guess the time of year we went was the off-season for Hawaiians to go to the beach, and no-one on vacation likes to get up at dawn. For Washington natives, sunrise in Hawaii in the fall is absolute perfection, though.

We visited historical sites and museums, Buddhist temples and gardens, and beautiful national parks. At the magic show, an illusionist made a helicopter appear on stage.

At the luau a woman in a grass skirt stood in front of the audience and gave a little speech about traditional Polynesian values and culture before launching into a blessing for the gathered attendees which sounded suspiciously similar to the typical mormon, “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for everyone arriving safely this evening, and please guide everyone safely to their homes and families at the end of the night, in the name of Jesus Christ amen,” template. I choked on my Long Island Iced tea and met my husbands’ eyes across the table, smothering laughter as we shared silent merriment at the LDS prayer over our alcoholic drinks. Later, on the fake beach by the dugout canoes, I found BYU insignia painted on the wall, but I was too drunk to be indignant at my inability to escape the mormons even on vacation.

Near the end of the trip, we got tattoos to commemorate both the honeymoon and our renewed vows. I chose three plumeria blossoms, while my husband chose three sea turtles (each with a different design on the shell). Three to represent our family: Husband, self, and son. Plumeria and sea turtles to represent Hawaii, and new beginnings.

 

lil old outspoken me

It’s funny, sometimes, how the way we see ourselves and the way other people see us can be so radically different. This is something I’ve often pondered, since I was a teen–the old song line, You never know just how you look/ through other people’s eyes comes to mind–but it was recently brought home again when I attended a recurring social event and someone (who’s only met me twice, and in the context of talking about books!) referred to me as a person with “strong opinions.”

It’s not the first time I’ve been described as such–though mostly since my mid-to-late 20s–and it always makes me laugh, because it’s really not how I think of myself at all. I guess when I think of people with “strong opinions,” I think of people who aren’t willing to listen to guidance, or cede an argument when presented with new information? Or, maybe, people who enjoy arguments and intentionally try to foment dissent at social gatherings as a form of, like, amusement, and that’s not my bag at all.

I consider myself more of a pacifist–a mediator and negotiator in personality, someone who prefers to avoid conflict if possible, but if it becomes unavoidable, I prefer to opt for communication resolving in peaceful resolution first and foremost. I have what’s often been called a naive belief in the innate goodness of humankind, and I truly believe the majority of people mean well, it’s just, we have different ideas of how to achieve it.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize the behaviors I exhibit which are often described, “bold,” or “outspoken,” or, “strong-minded” are just enthusiasm. I get really enthusiastic about things … books, Harry Potter, income inequality, motorcycling history, labor law, Star Trek, board games, writing, the publishing industry.

Like, super enthusiastic. And when I get enthusiastic about a topic, I research it backwards and forwards and up and down, like a super nerd. I read about it, I think about it, I talk about it. I daydream about it, come up with theories, and link it to other things I’m enthusiastic about.

Now, just like anyone else, I don’t randomly bring up this stuff at inappropriate times–I’m not sitting at, like, work functions rambling on about esoteric factoids regarding labor law history to a bunch of dull-eyed coworkers and/or clients. No.

But … I mean, yeah, I have been at, say, book club, and waxed intense about my feelings on a book. Or book series. Occasionally in a very detailed breakdown of the plot structure and the flaws therein (like writing a book where the overriding relationship question was resolved in the first THIRD of the book, thereby completely nullifying any plot tension for the remaining 2/3 of the book, OUTLANDER 2). 

Also, I’ll plead guilty to, say, standing around at some dull social function, participating in make-nice chit-chat, and I hear someone make a reference to a shared topic of interest, so of course I gravitate over, because hey. Interesting conversation thataway.

And sometimes I’ll share an interesting factoid–like, maybe telling a fellow motorcycle fan that the Indian Motorcycle company was a casualty of WWII, and explaining why; or mentioning in addendum to some anecdote about marketing or customer service that, The customer is always right is actually based on a 1920s marketing slogan rather than any sort of overriding consumer ethos, because my general assumptions are that history is cool, trivia is fun, and most people enjoy learning new things.

I think this is where the bold/ outspoken/ opinionated impressions come from. It’s interactions–like casual social gatherings, or seminars where we’re explicitly discussing reactions to readings, or classroom settings where discussion is encouraged–where I feel comfortable, because of the context of the situation, in voicing my opinion and why I believe as I do.

When I was a kid/ teenager, whenever I wanted to do something my parents were uncomfortable or ambivalent about, my dad’s thing was for me to argue my case. I guess it’s a lawyer thing. He would tell me if I could come up with a convincing list of pros and cons–because a good lawyer has to understand both sides of the situation in order to rebut the opposing argument–then he’d consider my request. That’s actually how I negotiated most of my teen concessions.

So I do feel pretty comfortable examining an issue thoroughly, from all sides, and coming to a conclusion regarding my stance. Thanks to great parents and some fantastic professors over the years, I’ve also learned how to organize my supporting arguments when participating in a discussion so I can support my stance, and I’m comfortable revising my stance in light of new information which may alter my perspective.

All that said, I really do not like debate or disagreement, especially outside the specific parameters of the classroom (where it’s moderated and all are working from the same base reading material). This is one of the factors in me deciding not to pursue a law degree (though hardly the only).

I know that might seem incredible to someone who’s only knowledge of me is this blog, but it’s important to recognize the words on this screen are on stream-of-conscious, largely unedited personal blog–this on-the-fly verbiage represents my internal world, and while the values of fairness and equality espoused herein aligns with my real-world values, beliefs, and general behavior, there’s a pretty key difference–I’m a lot more polite and in real life.

Call it esprit de l’escalier, or a lifetime of gender conditioning, or empathy from having been bullied myself. Whatever it is, the sometimes pointed language I use on this blog when venting about disagreements doesn’t come into play during personal disagreements. I believe there’s no need to get insulting or derogatory during a conflict–any resolution to the disagreement will hinge on the facts of the situation, not he said/ she said opinions on character.

So it’s funny, because when someone describes me as, “bold,” or “opinionated,” or “outspoken,” I hear “argumentative,” or “rude,” or “disruptive,” and I automatically flinch away from those descriptions–they feel weird and uncomfortable to me. I pride myself on my ability to be civil, pleasant, cordial, and generous in personal interactions. Sure, I’ve sometimes felt frustration at walking away from an encounter where someone was rude or derogatory to me and I didn’t yell back–I’ve thought to myself, coward, wimp, chickenshit.

But far more often, I’ve felt satisfaction at my ability to not only remain calm and collected in response to instigation, but when I’ve successfully de-escalated a potentially explosive situation. Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not more of a fighter. But mostly I’m glad I gravitate to peacemaker. But I suppose it’s all in interpretations–here I’ve been thinking bold/ opinionated/ outspoken equates to argumentative, when really, those could just as easily describe traits of enthusiasm and mediation. After all, enthusiastic people will come across as opinionated and outspoken, and a mediator personality has to be able to have strong boundaries in order to mediate–its impossible to mediate if you can’t negotiate, set, or enforce fair boundaries. So those are strength characteristics, too.

my town

Generally not a fan of country music, but there’s this one country song that resonates with me–echoes through my head as I drive the familiar roads of my hometown.

This is my town

where I was born, where I was raised

where I keep all my yesterdays

Where I ran off, ’cause I got mad, and it came to blows with my old man

Where I came back to settle down, it’s where they’ll put me in the ground

This is my town

(my town–montgomery gentry)

I wasn’t born here. I was actually born overseas in a military hospital. But I was raised here. I say “town,” but really I guess I mean “towns,” because the city I was raised in officially only has a population around 45,000 or so, but the boundaries bleed together with two other towns so the combined population of all three is 111,500. This is my town.

My town is linked by an Intercity Transit System–a bus route that will take me all the way from one end to the other. There is a train station, two bus stations, an historic downtown shopping area,  an awesome comic book shop, two Costcos, two Fred Meyers, six Safeways, and (collectively) about 30 other grocery stores–co-ops and local chains and market stalls and whatnot. There are the usual big box-store shopping options, a mall, a now-thriving shopping center that used to be a dead mall.

When I was a kid, the mall–the one that’s still functioning– used to host this Christmas/ Holiday village or train every December. It was really cool. They’d set up a series of train cars or a village row along the hallway, and the kids could go through the little rooms doing different crafts. Volunteers dressed in elf costumes would sort of guide/ corral the throng, and there was a table for gift wrapping.

I guess it was free, or very low cost, because I remember my parents taking us every year. We’d make things like cotton ball snowmen and paper snowflakes and foam-cutout ornaments, and at the end we could get a picture taken with Santa at the Sears studio setup (that did cost something–my parents never did that part). They don’t do that any more. I don’t know why– maybe because for a while there in the 90’s, the mall was trying to rebrand and be all cool and updated and a lot of their community involvement seemed to go by the wayside during that time? Changed their signage, tried to get everyone to call it something something shopping center, I dunno. We all just kept calling it Capital Mall, like always. Recently I noticed they have the old signage back up, from the 80s.

There are approximately 30ish elementary schools, and about 20ish middle and high schools (combined), and three colleges–one community, one public, and one private. There’s a ridiculous amount of churches. Someone once told me–I don’t know if this is true or not–that Washington has the most amount of church buildings per square capita in the United States, but the lowest church attendance. If true, it’s certainly amusing.

There are two hospitals. Soon to be three. Six funeral homes. Two public cemeteries and one (possibly two) private/ religious ones, that I’m aware of. Technically, each of the three cities has a separate police force, and there’s also a county sheriff’s office, as well as the Washington State Patrol. So  I guess we actually have five separate police precincts in the area. For most of my life, it’s felt like a safe and generally crime-free area.

Growing up, I used to sneak out of my bedroom window late at night and walk around the neighborhood. I wasn’t up to anything, I just couldn’t sleep and felt restless. I lived in a split level suburban house, in a neighborhood that was pretty evenly divided between owned and rented homes. Down the street was an elementary school, and up the way was a public park and the post office. The neighborhood had no street lamps to speak of (still doesn’t); no light pollution to drown out the stars. I would walk in the cool dark night, alone and unafraid.

In high school, most days I walked home– 2.7 miles, stopping at the library on the way home. I could’ve ridden the bus, but I hated the bus and I like walking. So I walked instead.

Foolish, I guess.

There have been several rapes and sexual assaults reported on trails in the area over the past year or so.

They are on trails I used to walk on. Trails I used to rollerblade on. I used to rollerblade at night with a friend, from our neighborhood to the state capital campus and back home again, for hours and hours in the summer nights; unconcerned by the darkness or presence of strangers.

The other night my husband and I went downtown for a #blacklivesmatter rally. Neo nazis lined up in opposition, trying to drown out our solidarity by screaming invective and hate. Several others milled about, trying to simultaneously distance themselves from the neo nazis and convince us to discard the #blacklivesmatter movement because #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter. It was an impossible argument to make.

I feel like, when your allies are neo nazis, you should re-examine your position. Maybe consider the somewhat confrontational and uncomfortable notion that you don’t actually have all the information and historical context you think you do.

I remember when I was 17 or so, my older sister taking me downtown for a concert or something … I was supposed to be her chaperone, ha. She wore a long sweater over opaque tights, like a minidress, and lent me her button-down brown leather skirt, which I wore with a cream crop top. So 90s. There as an alt band playing, something in the vein of Sleater Kinney grunge. The door was black with stickers on it, and the air smelled like weed and cigarettes–both of which I smoked back then, although I pretended not to, around my family. The crowd was too noisy for me, and when my sister found her date, I bummed a smoke from a stranger in the crowd and slipped out the door to stand in the alley, which was quiet and smelled like weed. I’ve never been a fan of concerts or live music.

The downtown core was littered with used needles. There have always been drugs in downtown, but I swear the drugs are different now. When I was 18/19, I lived downtown for a while, as part of the drifting/ homeless scene, while I dated one of the downtowners. Harder drugs were available, and a lot of my friends used them (I stuck with weed and cigarettes), but mostly I recall people being into weed, hallucinogens, and maybe a little cocaine. I never tried anything like that–cocaine, heroin–completely off-limits to me. D.A.R.E. had well and truly frightened me with their narrative of the one-time-use addictive properties. I can’t even recall meth. It must have been on the scene, by then, but I just don’t remember it.

Today weed is legal, which is good, and (ironically) I no longer use it. I’m generally pro-drug legalization, as I believe in taxation and regulation. When I walk through downtown, the smell of weed no longer seems to permeate each alley and doorway–probably because, as part of the legalization process, restrictions were placed on public usage, but there are used needles everywhere. I guess we must not have well-funded needle exchange program.

I feel tired.

There was a shooting in my neighborhood in June. Three people were killed. There was another shooting in downtown in July, over a traffic disagreement–a pedestrian and a motorist disagreed about right-of-way, and the motorist shot the pedestrian, then drove away and called 911. The pedestrian is in critical condition at the hospital.

Side note–the disagreement started when the motorist allegedly violated the pedestrian’s crossing space, and the pedestrian slapped the car hood, then used their skateboard in anger and slammed it against the motorists’ vehicle, causing the driver’s side window to shatter. While I admit this would be frightening (having been inside a car in the driver’s seat when an abusive ex kicked the window of the car in on my face), I would also point out that the motorist was still able to drive away from the scene, as evidenced by them doing just that moments later. 

The shooting was unnecessary–they were inside a steel cage of a vehicle powered by gasoline. The pedestrian was, well, pedestrian. A year ago, a police officer in the city used a similar defense (felt threatened by a skateboard) to justify shooting a black youth in the back. Skateboards: A real threat.

There was a quadruple shooting in a home of one of our towns in July. The officer on the scene said it was the first such shooting in the town’s history.

Apparently, 2012 public records showed about 10 percent (rounding up) of adults in this county having a concealed carry permit. That’s a lot of guns. Pew surveys show that most Americans who own weapons, own multiples.

I think about that, when my son goes to a friends house. I think about the news story about the kids on the military base just a year or so ago, about my sons age–around 12-16–and they were goofing off, playing in a field. One of them had found their dad’s handgun, and the familiar story played out.

There was a shooting at my old high school in 2015. My nephew will go to that school. My son practices drills at school, in case a disgruntled classmate brings a parents’ gun to school and tries to kill his classmates and teachers. In the past four years, he’s been sent home three separate times because of gun threats to the school.

My brother owns guns. He doesn’t speak to me for unrelated reasons. Sometimes I wonder if the next time we hear about each other will be a news article about a school shooting where one of us has lost a child, or a mass shooter at his place of work, or someone going road-rage on me and shooting me while I’m riding my motorcycle.

It’s weird to live so close to someone, and be so far apart.

It feels like a metaphor, almost, for the town. Like all my yesterdays are laid out in landmarks, mapped out close to the touch in happy memories across this beautiful place with its awesome parks and trails and libraries and shopping and everything I love … but then, there are also used needles and a growing white supremacist movement. There’s a subtle racism I didn’t really notice when I was growing up, because, well, I’m white. There’s a disturbing amount of unsecured guns. There are school shootings and threats. There’s classism and unemployment and homelessness, and all these other awful things I hate, things tainting my adoration of this place. Things that make me feel far apart from the community, things that make me want to scream for the pain of it.

I’m furious at the inequalities inherent in the system. I want to scream, because trying to engage with the status quo is so frustrating–the business owners, the politicians, the community members. Trying to support and fund actionable, research-based solutions to systemic institutional inequalities is seen as unfair–“welfare,” “rewarding laziness,” “encouraging drug use,” “affirmative action,” “harmful to small business owners,” “unconstitutional,” and their just interested in preserving their financial security and social privilege.

 

things you’d like to say

Prompt: Things you’d like to say to an ex

Honestly? I am not in contact with any of my ex’s, and I can’t really think of anything I’d say if I ran into one of them. Most of them were just high school flings, barely memorable. One is dead, shot in a hunting accident. The last boyfriend I had before John was a toxic and abusive relationship, and the only thing I’d say to that guy if I ran into him would be, “Oh, no. I can’t talk,” and then walk away very quickly.

These days, it seems to be a very popular notion to remain friends with one’s ex’s. I don’t really get that. Unless you have kids or work together, it just doesn’t seem like the wisest plan. I mean, in those two specific scenarios, you have to at least stay civil, obviously … but outside of those two situations, I just don’t understand all the pressure people seem to feel to be friends with an ex.

Like, yeah, sure, I’m sure there are those occasional relationships where two people are like, “Ya know, we just don’t work as a couple. How about we remove the sex and try it as friends?” and that actually works for them, and that’s fine!

But I think–mostly from observation, granted, because my sex-boyfriends-exes-trying-to-be-friends-phase was pretty brief and from basically 17-20 (add two years if oral sex counts)–that most of the time people become ex’s for a reason, and that it’s just way too complicated to try and remove sex but stay friends. There are too many feelings and weird dynamics and emotions and jealousies, and it’s all uncomfortable. Then it becomes like a weird power-play dynamic if you try to acknowledge or discuss them, with all the attendant misread signals/ expectations and the humiliation and rejection, and it usually seems that there’s ultimately a second breakup, anyway–the “friend” breakup, or the friend fade.

It’s just better to end things with an ex as cleanly as possible and be like, “Okay, well that was a life lesson learned, and now we move on.”

 

 

Unbook Club & Book Reviews

There’s this local book club I found recently that’s kinda cool. It’s predicated on a neat little idea: Instead of assigning a monthly book that everyone has to read like boring ‘ole homework, everyone who attends just talks really quickly about an interesting book they’ve read that month.

For the most part, it’s cool. There is one attendee who reels off a dizzying list of titles without actually pausing to recommend or review any of them, so it sounds rather more like a checking off an impressive bucket list than talking about an interesting book that caught the eye, but the rest of the attendees confine themselves to one title and a brief overview of the plot in order to entice the rest of us into maybe possibly reading?

In two months time, I’ve already learned about a few new intriguing books and put them on my list:

Other books reviewed by readers have been bumped up on my list, like Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates — it’s been on my to-read list, but knowing what a heavy read it will be, I’ve been putting it off. Now I feel the pressure a little more intensely.

Another book recently reviewed was Inside the Kingdom, by Robert Lacey, a book that apparently covers (in depth) the political intricacies of the Saudi royal family and how they influence international politics. The overall conversation/ review concerning that book got a little ethnocentric/ disturbing to me, especially considering that the reviewer said it only covered the last 30 years or so. It inspired me to look up some longer-term history, as I firmly believe you cannot tell the content of a nations’ character from the last 30 years.

I’m not too familiar with the history of the region, other than knowing that Western governments have felt it their right and duty to meddle in the region since the days of the Crusades, and that we have continued to insert ourselves officiously into their politics throughout the centuries, even when advised against doing so by those who are actuallyon the ground working in the region.

I sometimes wonder if our governments continued interference with politics of the area are now a sort of … guilty conscious, a desire to fix what has been damaged, and a fear of the repercussions if we can’t point to some sort of positive results for all our meddling.

In any case, I found two books I think might be more useful to me than the short-term perspective of Lacey’s work: A History of Saudi Arabiaby Madawi al-Rasheed, and A History of the Middle Eastby Peter Mansfield and Nicolas Pelham. Apparently these two books cover a much broader historical perspective, ranging back almost two centuries between them before coming up to the present-day perspective. So that’s good. It’s important to have a broader historical perspective with these types of things instead of knee-jerk decamping into the hissing hatred of, “Those people are nothing like us; it’s a completely different world!”

Poverty and hunger and religious oppression makes humans do strange things, I think. I think that the type of people who hiss hatred from the comfort of their homes with running water and electricity and plumbed toilets, that poverty stricken illiterate starving families in a war torn region who are swayed by the words of dynamic leaders who promise to stabilize the region and feed their families are nothing like us have, perhaps, forgotten (or never known) the true deprivations of the human spirit. There are some things that are universal … like believing anything, if it will put food in your child’s belly. Like being angry, or too tired to think, if you can’t sleep for your town being bombed and your country’s food supply destabilized.

They’re just like us, deep down. They’re like what we would be if all our comforts and the stability of our society was stripped away, and a foreign government and army came in and started “helping” to stabilize but just made it worse, and our leaders were despotic and took everything away.

Anyway, I digress. Obviously, that kind of upset me, haha. This month, in the Unbook Club e-mail, the organizer mentioned that she personally is trying to do this fun little reading challenge this year, and she included this list. Basically boils down to 12 books for 12 months (which is SO MUCH of an improvement over my massive fail of a reading challenge last year — reading 50 books by authors of color. I think I got to 10. Maybe 15. Holy crap. My problem is that I get stuck on an author and want to read all their books, so I read a whole ton by Octavia Butler, but she did not write 50 books, and then I was in a total sci-fi mood, so I was like, oh, a little Atwood wouldn’t hurt … next thing you know, I’m nose-deep in Atwood and mainlining Max Brooks like he’s cocaine. It’s insane.)

Anywho, this is the challenge:

  1. A book published this year
  2. A book you can finish in a day (done — Married with Zombies)
  3. A book you’ve been meaning to read (done — Outlander)
  4. A book recommended by your local librarian/ book seller
  5. A book you should have read in school (thinking Illegal People for this one)
  6. A book chosen for you by a spouse/ sibling/ child/ parent. (better let John or my sil choose — if I let one of my family of origin choose I’ll end up reading the BoM again, lol)
  7. A book published before you were born.
  8. A book that was banned at some point. (I’m thinking The Satanic Versesby Salman Rushdie
  9. A book you previously abandoned. (Working on it — Same Sex Marriages in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell. Its a slog because of those damned footnotes.)
  10. A book you own but have never read. 
  11. A book that intimidates you.
  12. A book you’ve already read at least once.

Obviously, I have some ideas for a few of the books, and I’ll figure out others as I go. I’m excited, I think this could be fun.

 

 

let’s all go to the movies

I’ve gone to I think 3 films in the last month or so — The Force Awakens, The Martian, and The Mockingjay: Part 2. 

I loved the first two and enjoyed all three, but I wouldn’t recommend The Mockingjay: II unless you literally just finished watching Part I and/ or have actually read the books and have a good grasp of the overall plot.

In other words, if the films are what are introducing you to the world of Panem and the overarching plot, the final Mockingjay film suuuucks. It introduces the viewer jarringly to the final act, picking up the thread of the story quite awkwardly from where the last movie left off. It just doesn’t really work as a standalone movie. It bears out what I said all along, from the minute I heard they were splitting the final book into two films: “Well, that’s an unnecessary money grab.”

I thought maybe they might make it work. They’re professionals, after all. They know what they’re doing. Maybe they final two movies would flow smoothly and evenly and beautifully, and be a wonderful two-part adaptation of the book. Maybe.

Nope. They’re choppy and awful. There’s simply not enough material to drag into two separate films, and it for a viewer (like my husband) who hasn’t read the books at all and is just being introduced to the world/ fandom through the films, the final two films were jarring, disjointed and made it difficult to remain immersed in the storyline.

Seriously disappointed.

The Martian and the The Force Awakens were cool. I loved The Force Awakens, actually — from the first scenes of that horrified storm trooper emoting so strongly his battle-terror WTF response through the blankness of his helmet; and the blood-spatter red handprint marking him out from the others. I loved that touch, of the facelessness of the enemy given face. Then the diversity of the casting! Holy shit, it was amazing! The world opened up with such depth and reality, to see so faces reflecting the reality of our daily lives — young and old, male and female, people of all races, and then on top of that, the usual plethora of alien species. It was so cool to watch a sci-fi film where the only diversity wasn’t made-up diversity (ie: imagined alien species). I had to restrain myself from cheering in delight every time Rey came on the screen — I love her, love love love her.

I love that Finn rushes to save her, but she saves herself. I love that she’s competent from taking care of herself, but vulnerable from being abandoned. I love that she’s lost and alone, and prickly and proud. I love that her backstory leaves you wondering — Who abandoned her? Why? Is she Han’s daughter? Luke’s? Ren’s long-lost half sister? A cousin? Is this another sibling situation? What’s going on there?

I loved seeing General Leia, too. One of the things I like about having Netflix is that I have access to a lot of foreign films and BBC, which is nice because non-USA movies use a greater range of ages and body sizes in their actors. I like watching, say, Doctor Who and seeing 30 and 40 year old women, or actors with crooked teeth or spots on their faces, or puddle-tummies.

I like seeing my own humanity reflected on the screen, instead of the channel after channel of straight-teethed blinding youthful flat-tummied botoxed perfection that’s the norm on USA television. Its gotten to the point where I mostly just watch USA tv programs for maybe 1 or 2 seasons (unless they’re animated, haha), and then I’m out because its just … my gods, they all look like mannequins, and I start feeling super miserable about myself. Its like — well, christ on a cracker, of course they’re able to escape into those fantasy lives, they’re practically gods already. Look at them.

I just really prefer the comfortableness of BBC shows and foreign films, which seem to show a broader range of ages, races, body standards, and living standards (they don’t all live in super nice well-decorated houses or fancy unbelievable apartments — sometimes they live in utter crap housing that’s small and overfurnished). You look at them, and its easier to get swept into the story because they actually are ordinary. Donna Noble is heavier-set single woman in her 30s with a little mole thingy on her chin; she’s ordinary. Rose Tyler was living in poverty housing and had buck teeth — she was ordinary. The companions (and supporting cast) of Doctor Who and other BBC programs are relatable in a way that USA television programs just aren’t.

And that was another thing I liked about The Force Awakens. For all that its a sci-fi fantasy taking place in a galaxy far far away, it was real in the representation of who was on the screen. There were people of all ages, genders, races, and economic strata. It was great. I almost cried. It was so wonderful to see people on screen who were actually reflected my reality, and brought the fantasy to life in a realistic and inhabitable way.

Which brings me to The Martian. Which … I liked. Loved, even. The story was moving, and Matt Damon was great, as usual. He’s a talented actor. As always, when there is a film where the script calls for people coming together to save Matt Damon from extreme duress, Damon performed impeccably well. For the space of the film, he became Mark Watney, and took the audience along on that journey.

When I walked out of the film, my only ghosting, mild disappointment — and I felt kind of kvetchy even saying it — was just that I was so tired of seeing this kind of film. Like, not the plot (great!) or anything like that. Just, specifically, the white straight male protagonist type of film.

It’s funny, I didn’t even realize how prevalent this type of film was until the past few years, when we started getting a few more options. Just one or two more a year. The Hunger Games. The Heat. Mad Max. The Force Awakens. Things like that, and I started to realize how much I love seeing diversity in movies.

It’s like … 5 years ago, my husband and I hardly ever went to the theater anymore. We’d hear about these movies (Sherlock, The Prestige, Inception) through friends or advertisements, and say to each other, “Oh, man we should check that out …” but we’d never get around to it. We might end up seeing it at a party, and usually end up underwhelmed by it.

Hollywood seemed boring and repetitive, recycling the same old stuff time and again. It was like, “Oh, lookie there. Hollywood is doing another version of Spiderman. With a different young white actor. How ground breaking.”or, “Ooooh. Exciting. I see that someone in Hollywood is doing yet another military drama with grim white soldiers and lots of explosions. I’m sure it will be full of new and interesting drama that has not yet been explored in any previous military drama.”

 

In a weird way, even though they’re actually literally just recycling the same plots (Ghostbusters, The Heat was just a buddy cop, The Force Awakens is your typical heroes journey), the fact that they’re doing it with someone other than the same old same old straight white male lead we’ve seen a bajillion times before it … interesting. Like, whoa. I wanna see where they take this. Are they going to explore this story? And now we’re going to the theater way more regularly than we ever were before, just to see these other, new films, the ones with the interesting perspectives.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t like The Martian, or Matt Damon. Or that I’m automatically saying all films with straight white male leads suck (Riddick and The Fast & the Furious remain high on my guilty pleasures list)… I guess I’m just saying, after a while they get sort of … predictable/ repetitive/ boring, especially when they keep using “box office draw” names like Matt Damon or Ben Affleck or Tom Cruise — because then, after awhile, its like you’re not watching the character or story, you’re watching the actor perform their craft. Like, I didn’t go see The Martian starring  Matt Damon and Sean Bean so much as I saw a movie where Matt Damon was stranded again and had to be rescued, and Sean Bean didn’t die.

It was good, but going into the movie, the joke I made was, “Oh, another movie about Matt Damon getting left behind and rescued? That guy needs a map,” and my friend laughed, because that’s like most of his movies. And leaving, my friend and I were joking, “Sean Bean didn’t die!” — and later, when I was talking about the film with another friend who’d seen it, that was her comment, too — “Didja notice, Sean Bean lived?!”

I mean, when it gets to the point where we’re seeing these same white straight male faces in the same roles, over and over and over again to the point where we’re cracking jokes about the similarity of their characters … I’m just saying. I feel like it would be fun to mix it up some more.

This isn’t actually a ding on the storytelling, btw. The Martian really was a great story and plot, and well acted. Its just … there’s a finite amount of stories and story arches, I guess. We retell them in an infinite amount of restructurings, with new names and locations, but ultimately when you strip them down to their bare bones, the stories we tell all have very similar basic structures. Storytelling is an ancient human ritual, something that’s been with us since hominid first hunkered by a fire in a cave. It is both how we recount our histories and look to the future; it is how we learn and grow both as individuals and as a culture. I believe it is how we teach empathy.

Acted out onscreen by actors limited by race, gender, and age, the stories are doubly restricted — not only by the basic underlying structures of them, but by the lack of imagination in representation. I suspect that’s why we were bored of going to the movies, before the sudden burbling arrival of mainstream films with more racially and gender diverse leads (after the paucity of the aughts).  Even now, such films are comparatively rare — when I look at the lineup for films at my local theater, there just isn’t a lot of diversity in the cast in terms of age, race, or gender. It’s boring.

I guess … that’s one of the things I like about Alien. Ripley was written to be played by a male or female, and I wonder how many more roles could be done that way. I think casting (and movies) would be so much cooler and more interesting if looks could somehow be removed from the process, and it was just based on talent/ resume ratings of the actor in question — and if they cast actors who were actually the ages of the characters in question.

No more 20-somethings cast as both teen heroines and as 30/40 year old widows and single moms (Jennifer Lawrence was 21 when she played the 16 year old Katniss, 22 when she played the widowed Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Notebook, and 25 when she played the 34 year old single mother-cum-mop inventor Joy Mangano in Joy.). Jennifer Lawrence is talented and all and I love watching her onscreen. I thought she was great as Katniss, really … but c’mon. You’re telling me there’s no other actresses in the 30 or 40 year old range that could have played Tiffany Maxwell or Joy Mangano? I can see choosing a 20-something for a teen role, because child labor laws. But what is the point of choosing a 20-something for a more mature role, other than straight-up ageism?

Thanksgiving 2015

I forgot to do this yesterday. Instead of doing a big long post, or a gratitude for every month (like I’ve done in years past), I’m just going to hit the top 3 things I’m grateful for this year.

  • My family. My husband and I have been through hell and back together, and we made it through in one piece. He’s my best bud and partner in crime, and I adore that man. Also, he looks great in (or out of!) a pair of jeans. My son is clever and compassionate and wry and witty, and I am so proud of him and all that he is. I appreciate their support of my goals, and their presence in my life.
  • Finishing draft 1 of my book (and round 1 of edits!). I’m about halfway through the second round of edits. I know there’s a lot of work to be done, still, but I can see it taking shape.
  • My friends. I am very lucky and I have cultivated some truly amazing friendships over the past 7 years. I honestly don’t know who I would be today without the influence of these wonderful women, but each of them have enriched my life and influenced my world for the better.

It is a pretty basic list, but you know what? It’s the simple things that count. We live a pretty simple life, yet I realize that is a privilege in many ways. There are many people in this country who, sadly, lack even the minimal stability that we have managed to secure. So I am grateful for all of this.

~*~

My husband just came in and said, “Whatcha doing, baby? Writing a blog?”

I said, “Yeah. Keepin’ it short. I don’t want to meander on too long again.”

He said, “‘Thankful John’s finally selling all of his extra shit.'”

I started laughing so hard I choked on my laughter, and John left the room quite pleased with himself.

For context, while I was recovering from surgery in September, he began selling some of the accumulated detritus from various abandoned hobbies on Craigslist and eBay. He proved to have quite a knack at it, and this has become his most recent hobby.

random weekend: Day 1

We took a spur of the moment trip to San Francisco last weekend. Initially, we were planning on going up to Cultus Lake in Canada, because they have an amazing waterpark, but then the weather turned. So then we started looking the other direction, thinking maybe Crater Lake instead?

Sure, It lacks water slides, but it’s better than sitting at home during a windstorm …

Then my husband was like, hey, San Francisco is only a little further away from Crater Lake. If we’re driving that far, why not power on through and drive all the way down?

We googled the average cost of a hotel in San Francisco and it was about $82; sweet! Totally within our budget. With some strategic budgeting, a night or two of camping, and the occasional dip into the savings account, we could do the whole touristy family trip thing. And then I saw that there were tickets for an Alcatraz tour available on Sunday, and the reviews indicated those were normally sold out weeks in advance!

I was like, uh, but you only have 4 days off. We can’t drive to San Francisco in a day. And John was like, it’s an 11 hour drive, I can totally do that. So of course I was like, challenge accepted.  The next thing you know, we arranged pet care and the three of us are packed in the car with a bunch of camping gear and headed off to San Francisco.

20150829_120756

So we as we neared San Francisco, we passed through a little town called Chico, and I was like holy shit, my friend lives in this town. I thought this town was further south, near the Mexican border.

Yes, I know. You may laugh. My geography sucks balls. I was raised going to US public schools, wtf do you expect? I didn’t even know Georgia was a country until I was 22! I also didn’t realize they’d passed a Civil Rights Act in 1866 until I was in my 20s. Like I said, our public school system leaves a lot to be desired. It’s kind of necessary to send kids in the USA to college just so they can get a basic fucking understanding of the world around them … and even then it can be a crapshoot.

Anyway, I digress. So I realize, obviously, as we’re driving though Chico that my friend is probably somewhere nearby, and I text him. He texts back: He’s in San Francisco picking up his girlfriend, who just flew in from England! Whoa! Serendipity!

So we ended up driving straight into town (under the Golden Gate Bridge, natch!) 20150829_194016and going and meeting up with them at a little eatery up by the Castro district, which was awesome. She screamed so loud, it was amazing, and we spent like 2 hours catching up, which was also exhausting because John had been driving for 11 hours and she’d just flown over on a twice-delayed flight from England.

There was this rando douchey guy at the table next to us who interrupted and talked to us for like 20 minutes, and that was really irritating and rude. I gotta say … dude, rule of thumb: If you see a happy reunion between friends, and they’re all are talking about how exhausted they are, and one of them has a foreign accent — do not insert yourself into their conversation. You are not welcome. You are not quirky or interesting or fun. You’re a random weirdo who is ruining the reunion. Thanks weirdo, go away now.

Downside? Meeting up with them meant that we skipped right past all the campsites. It didn’t really matter, because as it turned out, we probably wouldn’t have gotten a site anyway, since we arrived in San Francisco at 7:30 pm, and our harebrained trip just happened to coincide (we later learned) with three other events happening that weekend:

  • Nascar race
  • Triathalon of some sort
  • Bunch of people flying into SF airport for Burning Man the following week (they stayed that night and drove out the next day or so).

The long and short of it was, you couldn’t find a campsite or hotel/ motel for under $100 for hell or high water in that town that weekend. We even upped our lodging budget to $160, but nope. Every place we spoke to, every hotel we called, was out of rooms for the night.

Well, that’s not entirely true … we did eventually find a potential room. It was about 2 a.m., and my friend suggested a website called booking.com, which said they wouldn’t charge any fees for reserving a room, even if we didn’t show up.

That was a lie. Well … not technically. The website didn’t charge us any fees … but they ask for your credit card info to hold the room, which is standard practice for booking sites, so that part wasn’t the problem. The problem was that place that we reserved a room with informed us of their cancellation terms in the confirmation email we received for reserving the room, which is pretty underhanded; and their cancellation terms basically said we would be charged for the room whether or not we stayed in it.

So booking.com recommended a room at a place called the Royal Inn, on Eddy Ave, which wanted to charge us $90 to check in at 2 a.m. and leave by 10 a.m. Pretty steep for less than 24 hours, but it was literally the only room available by that point. So we drive past it — we actually think we missed the address, because it’s hard to see — and my husband parks about a block down, behind a police car. I get out of the car and walk down the block, scoping it out to see if we passed it.

Okay, I hate, hate judging a place based on how it looks. And I’m not a fan of the “broken windows” theory of policing. But this place, you guys. This place. The street was littered with broken glass and used needles. The people on the street all reeked of extremely strong alcohol. There was a bored, vacant-eyed woman giving a hand job to a man in a puffy jacket (which was weird that he was wearing a jacket because it was like 60+ degrees out) next to what turned out to be the hotel we were supposed to stay in.

It was like every stereotype or awful trope that you would see in a crime drama about a bad neighborhood. I legit couldn’t believe it. It was so sad, and yeah, it completely sucks that people live that life and I feel a lot of pain and sorrow for their circumstances and all that …

Then the Royal Inn itself … it was just, holy shit. I mean, wow. It seriously belongs on some sort of special edition of CSI or something, it was so shady. The reason we missed it is because the name was emblazoned in plain white lettering on a maroon awning over the door, so you couldn’t really see it — it’s like facing the sky at a slight angle.

On the door itself, there was a hand-lettered sign saying, “Push bell,” taped to the door, along with a black arrow. I pushed the bell, and it let out a long, sour buzz. The door swung ominously open, and the woman giving the bored hj turned her head slightly to glare at me. I stepped inside the plain white stairwell.

It wasn’t a lobby. It was a stairwell. It was painted a dingy, sad white. The sort of white that comes from paint being used to cover up filth, instead of filth being scrubbed away. A flight of stairs zig-zagged upwarded in front of me. Far above me, at the first landing, I could see another hand-lettered sign with another arrow, taped to the wall: OFFICE –>

It was so bad.

I was not going to walk my kid down that block. I was not going to bring my family into this shit-hole and pay them $90 to infect us with lice and bedbugs and ye gods knows what else. No. I just wasn’t. I refuse.

I was not about to take my son out of the car and walk him through that at 2 o’clock in the fucking morning on a family vacation. There is no point. No purpose.

I am all about confronting our privileges and being aware and all that, but jesus fucking christ wept. When I got to the hotel and saw that vacant-eyed lady of the night giving her mechanical handjob, I just noped the fuck out of there.

I got cat called on the way back to the car. That was weird. I do not get cat called, as a rule. I’d always figured it’s because I’m overweight, or maternal, or unattractive, or have short hair, or walk with a purpose. Now I think it’s just the place I live, because I got cat called whenever my boys strayed from my side in San Francisco.

Anyway, we drove out and found a beach. Kiddo and I slept in the car, and my husband took his sleeping bag and curled up behind a sand dune on the beach. The waves sang him to sleep and the wind soothed the heat from his skin.

And that was our first night in San Francisco.