At a book club meeting a couple months back, our tireless leader asked for volunteers. Our club has something like 350 members on the books, but probably only 80 show up regularly to meetings. Just like church! Apparently, people decide whether or not to read the book and attend the meeting on a month to month basis by reading the book blurbs. This is completely different from how I go about it. True, there are some books on our list that I would have skipped and some others that I thought were a bore, but part of the fun of book club to me is reading things that I never would have picked out on my own. I end up liking some of them, and even when I don't, I get to go talk to other people about why they liked or disliked it. But whatever other people want out of book club is their business. It's just discouraging to see five people at one meeting and then twenty at the next, just because we read The Hunger Games.

Anyway, in the couple of years since the group started, one woman has basically been doing all the work. Just going to three meetings in one week every month would be enough, but there are a lot of behind-the-scenes administrative work to it, too. So she finally asked for help and scheduled an open meeting for anyone who was interested in getting more involved.

I got that strange sorta feeling in my stomach, like I wanted to take a step outside my shell into the sunlight of involvementhoodness. I hate to use a word that seems like it should be reserved for much nobler activities, but I felt "called." So I showed up at the meeting, and almost immediately regretted it when I realized that everyone else there was really outgoing and organized. But I stuck it out, spoke up when I again felt called, and found myself at the end with a title: Wednesday Moderator.

Each month, we have three meetings, spread out over a week so people can pick the night that is most convenient for them. I'm a Wednesday. Tuesday and Thursday were equally convenient, really, but Wednesday was a newly introduced night, so there were the fewest regular attendees. I said that having only five people show up was discouraging, but it was actually great. The smaller group led to a better and more inclusive discussion.

My co-moderator is Mandy, who I've discovered that I like a lot. We brought book-related snacks to our first meeting, and they went over like a lead balloon. I mean, I ate some, and Mandy ate some, and a couple others took a bit to spare our feelings. But they were not spared enough. My feelings were soothed slightly by the fact that I got to take so much of the snacks home.

"Well, it is right after dinner time. Maybe some of them eat supper right before they come," I suggested optimistically.

"Or they're scared to eat in front of other people," replied Mandy. See? I like Mandy.

Snacks are not part of our duty. We just did it to make Wednesday the coolest. Our actual jobs are just to run the meetings - lead the discussion if no one is willing to do so, keep everyone on topic, pass around the collection plate. The plate in our case is a vintage kitchen canister that I dug out from my stash. We also wear name tags, also vintage and from my stash. See? I knew I would need these things one day! Wednesday is the coolest - they have snacks and vintage stuff and also sassy moderators.

We give out books as incentive for regular members to lead dicussions. If they do not want the book, we give them a tote bag with the book club name on it (Triangle Ladies' Book Club). At the last meeting, I took charge of the giveaway books and tote bags. I walked out of a coffee shop with a book club tote bag on my arm and felt very stereotypically suburban.

In the past month or so, I've found two copies of one of our upcoming books at thrift stores. That's happened before, but I always felt too shy to buy the extra copy to pass along. Now, I am a moderator, which gives me some kind of authority to give out extra books. It's goofy, I know, that I needed any sort of reason besides human generosity to pass along a fifty cent book. But now I'm excited about the prospect of giving out free books, both for the extra appeal it will give to Wednesday nights (snacks AND free books!) and for the chance to spread the secondhand gospel. Maybe we'll even play a little game to decide who gets the books. Doesn't that sound like just so much literary fun?

Plus, I can carry the books to the meeting in my tote bag!


the one ring.

We'd been talking about getting married for a while. After Daddy got sick, we talked about it some more. Finally, one night, I asked what needed to happen before we were officially "engaged," rather than "probably gonna marry each other someday." He said he needed a ring. And I said no, that wasn't necessary. I don't know what you've heard about musicians, but mine does not make a lot of money. Plus, his car had just died and so there was that to pay for. A symbolic piece of jewelry was not required. After all, I am a modern woman. But he was insistent about it, so I said that the ring we got now didn't have to be The One Ring. He liked that idea, and then he started talking about the ring he was going to buy me when he got rich. Apparently, it's going to be so ridiculously expensive that we're going to keep it in a safe most of the time, which sounds more useless than a regular engagement ring.

Josh has a thing about diamonds. Aside from the whole blood diamonds issue, there is the fact that diamond engagement rings were a marketing device invented by De Beers. Also, he says that De Beers artificially inflates the price on diamonds by hording them and keeping them scarce. My view is that it's just a shiny thing anyway. The value of it is entirely based on its shininess and not on any qualities like usefulness or scarcity. So the price is artificially high? It was all made up in the first place. But I wasn't requiring a diamond, since I didn't require a ring at all. That was his idea, though I would certainly accept a free piece of jewelry, so as not to hurt his feelings.

The next day, to show him that I was serious about getting serious, I spent some time ring shopping. I poked around on Etsy, just to give him examples of things that I liked rather than making specific requests. I sent him an email with half a dozen links to various rings. I was very budget-minded. The most expensive one I sent him was $175, and the cheapest was $22. Only the most expensive one had a diamond, an uncut one at that, which I thought was kinda neat. But the rest were pearls or had no stone at all. You can get white topazes and white sapphires, which look like diamonds, but I didn't like that idea. Just be yourself, little sapphire. If I was going to have a non-traditional ring, I wanted it to look like one, instead of it just being an imposter. I was prepared to rock my weirdo engagement ring, to own my eccentricity, to make others wish they were awesome enough to get such a cool ring. In my list, I even included one that had a puzzle piece on it, to further encourage him to go any way he wanted with this, including a silly way. I felt terrible sending such a gimme list and ended with a line about how none of it mattered at all, it was just a ring, it's him I want.

When I saw him at the end of the day, I immediately asked if he thought I was awful and shallow. He said he hadn't read the email. Then he said that the dog had discovered a new archaeological find in the yard.

While I was looking online, he was driving all over town. He took a crash course in diamonds online and then hit some pawn shops. He found The Ring at the Raleigh Jewelry and Loan, a shop that seemed to specialize more in guns. The guy behind the counter was mistrustful at first. Then Josh said he wanted to buy that ring right there, and the guy figured out A.) Josh was not casing the joint, and B.) he was going to commit his life to some girl. Suddenly aglow in the contagious happiness of a proposal, he was helpful and friendly. Apologizing that he didn't deal a lot in engagement rings, he pulled out a tiny gift box from under the counter. It was truly hideous, made of glittery turquoise plastic with a pink bow that Josh had to tape on.

The man asked him: if I was such a great gal, why was he buying me a ring in a pawn shop? I don't quite understand the sales technique. Even pawn shop owners believe the stigma.

Josh does not believe the stigma. I do not believe the stigma, because it's the same one that says that thrift stores and yard sales are for poor people. Being who we are, it would have been, I dunno, wrong somehow to buy a brand new ring. Plus, at pawn shops, you can negotiate. Josh got them to knock $100 off the price to get it to $650. Later, when we took it to a real live jewelry store to have it resized, the professionals estimated its value at $1800.

That is the kind of man that I want to marry. Makes me all hot just thinking about that kind of savvy shopping.

He worried before he gave it to me that it was not The Ring, the right ring. The funny thing is that as soon as he offered it to me as a way of offering himself, it became The Ring. Like the stone and the metal it's made of, the value is what we attach to it. That would have been true of any diamond or pearl or puzzle piece ring he gave me. So it was this one, which turned out to be just the one I wanted.



Shortly after we moved into the house, Josh spent an afternoon raking the back yard (remember - all trees, no grass). I don't know why he did this, as it didn't seem to accomplish much, but he was very proud of the act. Doing this, he unearthed various bits and pieces of the previous owners' lives. A bottle cap here, a mangled bird feeder there. It was like the arrowheads that some kid in your second grade class had found out near the creek, except not at all exotic. Apparently, us humans are just not capable of not leaving our crap all over the place.

Once we got the dog, even more of this stuff started cropping up. Maybe this went back two or three owners, because it had been too deep to be uncovered in a cursory raking. No, it needed paws. Paws that used to be white but were now kinda orange, thanks to that red dirt we have around here. We'd catch her chewing on something mysterious and have to take it away before she broke her teeth on it.

Some of this stuff was more of the same - plastic bags, broken glass, disposables that hadn't been properly disposed of. And then she started coming up with odd metal things. They look like parts from some kind of mechanical monster. I only engineer non-tangible things, so I have no idea what it could have been. Probably a time machine. I started collecting the more interesting items as a sort of art piece: Remix Archaeology.

I noticed that you could use the "artifacts" to spell out words, specifically the name of Josh's band. I thought it might make a neat picture for their website, but we needed an 'O'. We had one already, and we could just use that one again with a little photo-editing, but I felt that it would be truer to the spirit of Remix Archaeology if we could have a different object. I don't know why, but considering that sculptures consisting of crap my dog dug out of the yard is a relatively new art form, I figure I can make it go however I want.

A couple of weeks ago, Josh mentioned that Remix had found another 'O.' How thrilling! I asked what it was, and he sort of shrugged. Well, that makes sense. It's not like I could tell what any of the other pieces used to be anyway. At home, we were on the back porch, enjoying the ridiculously mild weather. I asked about the new artifact. He went inside to get it, saying that it was small and he hadn't wanted to lose it. He came back and put it in line with the rest of the letters. It was tiny compared to the other letters, and I felt bad that I would have to tell him this piece would not be acceptable for my purposes. It was also very shiny.

I picked it up, and it was on my finger before I had a chance to turn around and see him kneeling before me.


st. george's horse.

I bought a little picture at a yard sale this weekend. The yard sales season is slowly starting up. The birds and the bees and the flowers all got the message about spring coming early this year, but whoever schedules the yard sales was caught napping. But there were a couple of church sales last weekend, which I arrived at just as they were ready to really bargain.

There were several pieces of artwork, all nicely-framed and a couple of them fantastically large. One was a still-life (yawn), another something abstract, and one more was a picture of an Italian bridge. I'm sure I could have gotten each one for less than $10, but none of them were really speaking to me. There was one little one, though, that I liked. I hate to trot out the old saying about not knowing about art, but knowing what I like, but that's pretty much me all over. So I brought it home, because I liked the expression on the horse's face.
As it turns out, the painting is of St. George slaying the dragon. I sorta figured that, except that I'd always pictured the dragon to be, you know, bigger. This one looked to be more in danger of being trampled by the horse than anything else, but maybe that's the part of the story you never hear: how it was really St. George's horse all along. Anyway, the painting was done by Raphael, which made me feel better about liking it. Any artist who got to be a ninja turtle was probably pretty good.

We looked around for a place to put it. I've written at length before about how we basically just decorate by putting all the stuff we like into one room. Maybe we're idiots, but it seems to actually sorta work. Ordinarily, you'd never put a sarcophagus next to a sled, but we did, and somehow it seems to be fine. I guess we're just trendsetters.

We finally found a nice little spot above our paper mache figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. It's a horse theme. Is it just me, or does this ridiculous mix of styles totally work?
Don't mind the Storm Trooper. At some point, he will be glued to the dashboard of Josh's band van. For now, he's just hanging out with the other horses.



I stole some pens from my dad.

He always had a lot of pens, like, more than would ever be reasonably necessary. He bought them in large multi-packs, maybe because they're cheaper that way and also because of some kind of Boy Scout logic that told him you can never have too many pens. He is absent-minded, too, so maybe they disappear like socks in the dryer. I don't have a specific memory, but it's easy for me to imagine him grumping around the house, looking for a pen. Daddy is a constant low-level grumbler. But it's light-hearted. Crotchedy. Say something smart back and earn a grin in response.

But the last time I visited, when he was in the hospital the whole time and not at the house for mealtimes with the rest of us, I saw a big cup full of pens on his desk. And they were the same kind I have at home, that I buy for full price at the shiny retail office supply store in two-packs because I like them so much. You know, you should always have a good pen handy.

So I took them. THREE of them.

In my defense:
1. There were a bunch left.
2. They were dusty.
3. Everything I associate with him has become incredibly significant.


foreign affairs.

As usual, my policy against buying more books (due to already having a "to-read" pile taller than something really tall) has been a total failure. I have no defense, at least no good one. I could say that I only pick books that look really really good and are really really cheap, but that has always been the case. That's how I got too many books in the first place. I have tightened my standards. I only buy books that are major award winners or by authors that I trust. Unfortunately, that still leads to me bringing them home in piles, though smaller piles than before. What I really need to do is to stop looking, to pass by the book section completely. And I sometimes try to do that, but then something catches my eye and I figure if there is one good one, there are probably more, and then it's all over.

The Durham Rescue Mission, a gigantic thrift store that still can't hold all its stock, has a free pile of books. Getting tossed into the free pile seems to be luck of the draw, as there is no consistency in condition or quality. One of the books I recently rescued from the pile up was this one:
Had I just been scanning the shelves, I never would have picked up this book. All you can tell from the side is that it's a pulp paperback, a mass-produced romance novel. The cover, featuring a man holding a woman with a mysterious smile on her face, with vaguely European landmarks in the misty background, looks like a bodice-ripper. The back cover features a glowing review excerpt from Cosmo, which is not a periodical I go to for book recommendations. Here is the blurb:
She met him on the plane. A most unsuitable man, she thought. Certainly not someone a sensible American professor on her way to do some serious research in London should consider becoming involved with. Yet there was something about Chuck Mumpson that Vinnie Miner found oddly irresistible...
Handsome, married yet separated, Fred Turner is another American in London doing research. But his days gathering facts in the British Museum pale besides his nights in the arms of the lovely television actress Lady Rosemary Radley...
Two Americans abroad. Two foreign affairs of the most unlikely sort. Two lives opening to passions and choices only dreamed of - embarking on journeys that would change them both forever.

This book was not marketed to me. I once stopped into a used bookstore that was nestled unobtrusively into a strip mall. I was hoping that I had found a hidden gem, but the place was wall to wall romance novels. My general feeling about these books is that they are sort of all alike. I was amazed that there were so many different books, since the genre as a whole seemed so formulaic. The lady running the store tried very hard to help me by pointing me to the Mystery Romance, the Historical Romance, the Western Romance, and I don't remember what else. I spent about five minutes with a very narrow shelf labelled "Classics" before thanking her and scooting out the door. I didn't see it, and if I had I would not have noticed it, but it's entirely possible that Foreign Affairs was somewhere in that little shop, maybe in the Overseas Romance section.

But I did see it in the free pile of the Durham Resuce Mission, and because it was in a pile and not on a shelf, I happened to see that magical little gold seal on the front: "Winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for fiction." And my brain could not compute what that seal was doing on what looked like a completely standard romance novel. Of course, the answer is that it is a romance novel, in that it is about relationships. It also, according to the Pulitzer committee (and Cosmo's book reviewer), is a dang good book.

I looked up the book on Amazon to see what kind of cover it had now. It looks like the kind of book I would have pulled off a shelf. The marketing of this edition is no less of a formula than it was for the other. It's just that the formula adds up to a different kind of reader. Me, for instance.
I do my book-buying based mostly on covers. I have been impressed with my ability to consistently pick good books. In fact, I've been getting a little smug about it. A lot of times, I can't remember where I got a book or what made me pick it up, but when I finish it, I find that I liked it. Good job, me, you rock at finding the awesome book among the thousands of ones that suck. But maybe this is not so much a matter of me knowing how to pick a good book as the marketing people knowing how to sell me a book that I will like, i.e. think is good. It is their job to help people find books that they will like. So they pick a design and a description and a selection of positive reviews that will attract the right people. Sometimes you need multiple editions to attract all the disparate groups of people, each of them convinced that they don't like "those other" kinds of books.

I suppose you could say that the lesson for me here was that I should not judge books by their covers. The text inside either edition of Foreign Affairs is the same, and it is what won the Pulitzer. Just because an author uses romance as her form doesn't mean that she can't write a heck of a book.

But the cover of a book has less to do with the quality of the contents than who the publishers are trying to sell the book to. It seems that I should judge books by their covers, because someone out there has got me pegged. They know what kinds of books I like, and they know what to do to make me buy them.


kent road sandwich.

When Josh first moved to Raleigh, he used to live with four other guys in a house on Kent Road. It was not a nice house, or maybe it used to be a long time ago. However, when he lived there, it really should have been condemned. There was no heating and cooling built-in, so the guys supplied their own space heaters and oscillating fans. The basement flooded every time it rained even a little bit. There was a lot of very questionable wiring. It was a dirty, nasty place, but the price was right.

I used to live in a hole, too, back when I was a poor college student. My hole was on Howard Street in Boone, a basement apartment that also flooded, had two windows in the whole place, and noticeably slanted floors (which was interesting in combination with the flooding). My bedroom had a six-inch hole in the wall covered by a piece of cardboard. But I loved the Howard Street apartment. It was just so full of character, and when you're young and stupid and poor, it's very easy to confuse flaws with charm. I feel like everyone should live in a crappy apartment at some point in their lives; then, the only way you can go is up.

However, my Howard Street apartment was a huge step up from the Kent Road house, and the difference was Kent Road itself. It was a capital-B Bad neighborhood. Rather, it was more like a little pocket Bad neighborhood, surrounded by reasonably safe student housing on three sides and the beltline on the other. It's the kind of Bad neighborhood you'd end up in by accident, because you were just trying to cut from Kaplan Drive to Western Boulevard, and you had no idea that in between was a reliable place to buy crack.

Here's a nice little story to illustrate life on Kent Road:

One night, maybe even very early morning, Josh's brother decided to go for a walk. This was, of course, a terrible idea, and I really don't even want to speculate what he was thinking. But Josh figured that if he couldn't talk his brother out of it, he might as well accompany him. They also took along the dog, because dogs don't care how dangerous the neighborhood is, they always like to go walkies. Down the road, they encountered a man sitting on the sidewalk, cleaning a shotgun. The man looks at them, looks at the dog, looks at them again, and then just nods to them. They continue on their way, end of non-story.

I'm sorry, did I forget to mention that the dog is a Rottweiler? I guess that was an important part of the story. Whoops!

But yeah, that's the kind of place that Kent Road is. I never really thought about that until after they moved into the Caldwell Drive house, where the worst thing was the busybody across the street who complained about that same Rottweiler getting into her flower bed. After they moved out, though, it seemed like pure luck that they got out alive.

The thing is, there is this weird sort of nostalgia associated with the places you live when you are young and stupid and poor, even places like Kent Road. I guess it's selective memory. Or maybe a yearning for your own bygone youth.

As a part of being young and stupid and poor, we ate a lot of crappy food. I was not poor at the time, but I couldn't cook, and I was cheap. So we ate frozen pizzas like they were going out of style. A lot of frozen french fries, too and sometimes mac and cheese with hot dogs. Every once in a while, we would really splurge by buying a bag of rolls, an onion, a green pepper, sliced provolone, and whatever cut of beef was marked down because it was about to expire. And also a bag of frozen french fries and soda and/or beer. We'd grill the sliced veggies and the beef, then dump the whole pile onto two bun bottoms that were sitting right next to each other on a plate, I guess because dividing things up would be too hard. Then we put the cheese on the hot mess and chowed down on a pair of snuggly steak sandwiches.

This, friends, was high living at Kent Road.

It's actually a pretty good sandwich, though I can't eat one without thinking about Kent Road and all the other assorted memories I have of my weekends there. We don't make them much anymore, probably because I rarely have steak in the house, and I've learned to cook since our Bad neighborhood days. But then one day a couple of weeks ago, I found myself with some leftover grilled chicken that I needed to use, and thus the Kent Road Sandwich was reborn.

It's not quite the same as it used to be, but then again, we're not either.

Kent Road Sandwich

  • 1 T salt
  • 1 1/2 t white pepper
  • 1 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 3/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1/2 t basil

  • chicken breasts
  • onion, sliced
  • green pepper, sliced
  • buns
  • cheese of your choice (provolone, mozzarella, monterey jack, whatevs)

  1. Mix up the spices in a bowl. (Note: This is a spice mix I yoinked out of a Paul Prudhomme cookbook. You can make chicken this way and use in bunches of other ways. That Prudhomme guy knows how to spice a chicken.)
  2. Dredge the chicken in the spice mix. Brown both sides in a frying pan. Transfer chicken to a glass baking dish, bake in 175 degree oven for 12 minutes, or until cooked through (cooking time depends on thickness of chicken. You could probably pound it flat before cooking if you wanted to get fancy).

  3. While chicken is in the oven, saute onions and peppers in butter until they start to brown. You will not need to add any seasoning whatsoever to the veggies, as the spice on the chicken will do all the flavor work. I sometimes use the same pan, so the veggies get the spices that hung out in the pan.

  4. Once chicken is done, slice it up.

  5. Broil buns in oven until toasted (or use a toaster or toaster oven or flamethrower). You may also want to consider mayonnaise at this point.

  6. Combine ingredients such that they form a sandwich. If you want, you could also put the completed sandwiches back into the oven for just a minute to get the cheese all melty.

  7. Eat. Imagine that you are terribly poor and living in a really crappy house. Make it seem romantic in your mind.



Once, in college, I ran into a girl that I had roomed with in the dorms. We never had any huge blowout fights, though I did throw some rolls of toilet paper at her once. But we were not well-matched. She was very tidy, while I was not. She was incredibly uptight, and I was only kinda uptight and in different ways. We didn't hate each other, and had we not lived in the same small room, we might even have been friends. Anyway, I hadn't seen her or talked to her much since we all moved out. I didn't particularly want to stop and chat with her now, but the fact that we had shared a bunk bed for a year did mean that I should probably say hello.

"Oh hey, how are you?" she asked.

"Fine." This was a terrible lie, because I had a nasty cold, which was immediately obvious because my voice sounded raspy. I actually had trouble getting the word out, my voice was so bad. She gave me a funny look, because I sure didn't sound fine. I guess she knew that I wasn't very good at small talk, so hopefully she chalked it up to that, rather than me trying to avoid extending our conversation.

This story does not tell a particularly flattering picture of me. I would like to tell more positive stories about myself, but I just have so many more of the other kind.

Last Saturday, after visiting my dad in the hospital, I went to Josh's show in Boone. And it was weird, to be at a bar, having a beer, watching a show, while my dad was in the ICU. People I knew said hello, how are you, and I was always fine. Not because I didn't like those people or wanted to cut short talking to them, but because I didn't want to discuss my ongoing family emergency. And with them not knowing anything about it, that was pretty easy. I was fine. My dad was not fine, and that knowledge was lurking in the back of my mind the whole time, but I was fine and nothing in my voice indicated otherwise.

Then Josh's dad and step-mom showed up, and they already knew, because Josh had told them. Not that there was any reason he shouldn't tell them, because these people spend Christmas at my house; we are family. His step-mom came toward me, arms outstretched and her head titled to one side, and I was horrified to realize that I was about to receive a sympathetic hug.

Yup, that's me, being horrified at being the recipient of love and concern from another human being.

She asked how I was ("Fine"), and how my dad was ("Okay"). I told her that he was stable in the hospital, that his right leg had stopped working on him but he was moving it now, that I had seen him and he had been sedated but lucid. It was a very positive outlook. And that was a satisfactory answer, in fact, it was downright chipper. Perhaps I did not need sympathetic hugs after all, just regular haven't-seen-you-in-a-while hugs.

That was the short version, so here's the extended: my dad has atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that leads to strokes. He will not take any medicine for it. It is not an unusual condition for someone his age (77), nor is the medication he would take new-fangled or experimental. But Daddy does not trust doctors. He's been that way for a long time, and within my family, it's not an entirely unusual viewpoint, though he is taking it the furthest (hey, we're competitive, too).

I would like to believe that this refusal of his is more about acceptance of mortality than stubbornness and paranoid distrust. Maybe he feels like he has had a rich and full life and is not interested in being immobile and dependent in order to buy a few more years of being immobile and dependent. This is the story that I have told myself. I have no idea what its relation is to the truth or even to any stories that Daddy might tell, but it makes me feel better about the fact that my daddy is choosing to die. I do firmly believe that he does not fear death, but I don't understand why that would make him choose not to live.

It is his right to make that choice, no matter how much it upsets me and my siblings or burdens my mother, his caretaker. We all die, and I hope that when it's my time, I exhibit the kind of acceptance I'm ascribing to him. Except that the choice is not even that simple. By choosing to not take preventative measures against them, he is choosing to have more strokes. Which may kill him in one go or they may take him out, one piece at a time over the course of years. So I am in the awkward position of having to hope that my daddy has a great big stroke that kills him dead.

In this situation, that is the best thing to hope for. It is a crappy little hope.

So I didn't want sympathetic hugs and I didn't want to talk about my dad because I didn't want to talk about that. I didn't want to have to explain why he was refusing treatment, nor did I want to have to watch other people realize that they had no possible idea how to comfort me in this situation. So I would not mention that part at all, and then try to act as happy and hopeful as they did about his promising recovery. Because I was fine.


Predictably, my dad did get sick again. He came down with some wicked vertigo and his body rejected anything that might have been food. At the hospital, the doctor told him that they might as well send him home, because they couldn't do anything if he wouldn't let them. He thought about it, talked to my brother a while, and finally decided that he might as well try the drugs for a trial period.

And so we have a better hope, cautious, but still something to be happy about. I am better than fine.


next life.

My first car was a 1991 maroon Toyota Corolla station wagon, seven years old with 170,000 miles. It had been my mother's mail route car. It had a bumper sticker on it that said, "If you've got a mailbox, we'll find it." It was a good car, but all that through-wind-and-rain-and-sleet stuff can be hard on a machine. About two weeks before my sixteenth birthday, my dad swerved to avoid a car that was pulling out in front of him and took out some mailboxes, which left a big dent in the back door. I fixed it by never using that door.

The next spring, I played Peppermint Patty in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." We made cartoony flowers for the set out of colored foam and pipe cleaners. After the show ended, I stole a foam flower and hung it from the rear-view mirror of the car. Thus she was christened the Pattywagon.

She took me to school and back, to youth group and back, and on all those little afternoon jaunts that were my first taste of freedom at sixteen years old and 97 cents a gallon. Compared to the mail route, Patty's second life was easy street, but by the time I was about to graduate from high school, she had come to be too unreliable for my college-bound needs, my upcoming second life. My parents had been saving for my education, but when I got scholarships to pay for it, they offered to either take me on an overseas trip or buy me a car. I picked the car. We went up to Toyota of Boone and picked out a teal Corolla with gray interior. It had power nothing, but my parents did let me add on a CD player. They got a $1000 rebate for being loyal Toyota customers.

The Pattywagon entered her third life at a rural car auction, where she went for $300 (nine years old, 190,000 miles). The new owner was a young couple who needed a beater car for the wife to tool around in. I still have the flower.

The first time I drove Gypsy, my replacement Corolla, was to my high school baccalaureate. My friend Wesley, who was really into cars, after sticking his face into the trunk and inhaling deeply, announced that she was less than a month old. Which was cool, I guess, or maybe just really weird. The point was, she was new.

In my own way, I drove her through wind and rain and sleet. There were also at least three blizzards. My college roommate Nick, a mechanic, used to tell me that I should put a Celica engine in her, but I guess we have different ideas of cars. He wants them to go fast, but I just want them to go. Just get me there, it's your job. Cars are all, by nature, very hard workers.

She did not come to be named Gypsy until I'd had her for six years and was well into my third life. By then, she had taken me up and down the mountains, killed a deer, and been my companion on weekly trips to the arms of my long-distance boyfriend, at $3 a gallon. The interior handle on one of the back doors broke, and I fixed it by never using that door. There were dents, there were scratches, there was a hole in the ceiling fabric and a barbecue sauce stain in the seat. She died sitting in traffic, after eight years and 160,000 miles.

I bought a new red Honda Fit. She has seen one blizzard and at various times has transported a sarcophagus, a table, and a bass amplifier cabinet. She is, as yet, unnamed. These things take time.

I called in a favor from Nick, who now worked in a junkyard and had access to parts. He fixed Gypsy for the price of dinner. I sold Gypsy to Josh for $1000, though we never transferred the title. He drove her back and forth to the restaurant, back and forth to band practice. Once, I don't even know how, he managed to transport the sarcophagus in her.

Sunday night, I picked Josh up from a random church parking lot, where he had coaxed Gypsy in to get her out of traffic. She wasn't very interested in accelerating anymore. AAA towed her to a garage, where they told me it would be $1100 just to get her running again. Then, once I had saved up a little more money, I could fix all the other problems that they weren't even telling me about. Also, she needed new tires. Eleven years old, 187,000 miles. We decided to let her go.

Until Josh buys another car, we are sharing the Fit. It's inconvenient and a hassle, but it's fine, because the Fit is a very hard worker.

I sent an email to my mechanic, asking about the best resources for buying a new old car. He answered, but wanted to know what was going to happen to Gypsy. We were planning on donating her, but he immediately offered $200 for her without asking what was wrong with her. He wanted to fix her and drive her around. It seemed appropriate that the person who had revived Gypsy into her second life would own her in her third. Maybe he'd put a Celica engine in her, though there ain't nothing wrong with the engine that she has.

For the past few days, Josh has spent his off-duty hours looking at the cars on CraigsList; he IMs some to me at work. Some of these ads are not serious leads - ancient Army jeeps, a 1974 Jaguar that is only $800 but doesn't run (but is beautiful). And then intermixed with all these ridiculous cars he would buy if he had the money and the space are a series of old Japanese sedans and wagons, looking to enter into their second or third (or fourth) lives. I wonder what he will name it.



I asked the stars what to do. They, being giant burning balls of gas, did not answer. Or they did, but I don't speak Twinkle. Instead, the leash in my hand pulled in the direction of the street. That was Remix telling me that what I should do was go for a walk with her. It was 7 PM and dark and 40 degrees, but we went for a walk. My neighborhood is safe, and I had a flashlight and a pitbull.

Just a few hours earlier, we had both been sitting on the futon. Her stomach started heaving. I knew she was about to throw up, and I tried to move her off the futon, but she was not inclined to relocate. That's the thing about big dogs. You require their cooperation and obedience more than a dog you can simply pick up.

This is not a big deal. She's thrown up before. The pile smelled like dog food and was mostly chunks, with a few tiny green leaves mixed in. You wanted to read a description of my dog's vomit, right? Now I could get her to move and so I let her out into the backyard. Whatever else she had to do, she could do out there. Then I went back and cleaned up the futon. The poor, poor futon, which before we got a dog probably could have been passed down to another member of my family like it was passed to me. But no, it will die in my house at the paws of a pitbull.

I looked out the back window to check on her. She'd made another pile of half-digested dog food and was now lying next to it, looking pathetic. I kept peeking out the window at her to see if she was done dumping her stomach contents out, so I could let her back in. I could imagine my reaction if my mother made me go outside in the cold when I was sick. If only I could teach Remix how to use a vomit pan. She wasn't moving at all. And then at one point I noticed another little pile she had made, but this one was sitting at her back end. She hadn't even gotten up to poop.

That scared me. Vomit we've dealt with before, but the not moving and the passive defecation were new. My dog was sick.

Josh said we should wait and see. I was not comforted by this. We threw some towels on the futon to make a little sick bed. Then we went out to get her. She didn't raise her head at all, and getting her up was out of the question. So Josh picked her up, all 60 pounds of her, and carried her inside. We set her up on the towels. She lied in her new position, just as still as she had been outside. Josh felt her nose and verified that it was cold and wet. Thus our canine medical knowledge was exhausted.

I called the vet, because an expert would know whatever step came after touching her nose. They told me to bring her in. Josh said of course they did, because if they said to just wait and see and then our dog up and died, we'd hold them responsible. I heard him, he sounded reasonable, but then again, my dog was sick.

We drove to the vet. While we had carried Remix out to the car, when we got to the doctor's office, she hopped out of the back seat and sniffed around. I was torn between relief and wishing that she'd go back to acting sick, so I wouldn't look like a hysterical pet owner.

We waited for the doctor in the examination room, where they advertised specials for your pet's annual physical, which included all kinds of shots and tests and even x-rays. "These animals have better health care than a lot of people," I said. "Like me?" Josh asked.

The doctor examined her and told us that she had a cold. She was coughing in the doctor's office, and he asked if that's what she had been doing when she threw up. Apparently coughing will activate a dog's gag reflex, which can cause them to vomit. You can tell the difference by watching whether they cough or heave before it all comes out. I thought back, and I'd thought she'd heaved before upchucking, but since she was coughing now, I couldn't be certain. Again, I felt relieved, but also disatisfied with the answer. A cold would not make her lie down and look like she was waiting for death. He perscribed an oral antiobiotic to give her at home and also gave her a shot of penicillin so that she could start getting better quicker.

We can all agree that it was probably a waste of $123. Because my dog was sick, but not that sick, and I really should have just listened to Josh. I listened to him on the drive home from the vet's, as he told me how I should have listened to him earlier.

We got home and Remix drank her bowl of water to the last drop. She seemed fine. I sat on the futon, feeling utterly defeated, because somehow you can fail at owning a dog. She came over to the befouled futon covered in towels and sat down next to me.

She smiled.

No, really. When she's panting, her mouth is so wide that it looks like she is smiling, but this was different. Her mouth was closed, but the sides of her mouth were stretching stretching stretching back to her ears. It looked like a commercial where they digitize a dog's mouth to smile after delivering the punchline. We'd never seen anything like it. What is it, girl? Why are you smiling, puppypants?

She threw up. On the towels, on the futon, on me, a whole bowl of water and a couple of kibble chunks for good measure. There was no coughing, this was no gag reflex, this was projectile vomiting. So much for a cold. I told you, my dog was sick.

I had to go run a couple errands and Josh had to go to work. We put her in her crate, so that if she were going to be sick, it would be contained to a limited area. Again, it seemed like punishment. I went off, imagining myself coming home and finding a dead dog all locked up in a crate, in a pool of her own vomit.

But she did not die while I was out. She stirred as I came in, and she got quickly to her feet as I unlocked the crate. We had a snuggly reunion. She kept putting her paws over her face, like I'd seen her do after walking into a spider web. Something was bugging her. I held up her face to get a look at her.

Her face was comically swollen. Her lips and jowls were red and puffy. One eye was unable to open all the way. I guess my dog and my boyfriend are allergic to penicillin.

What did I do? I called the vet. By this time, they were closed for the day, but the recorded message directed me to call an all-night clinic. Which I did. I said the vet had given my dog a shot and now she was swelling up like a pitbulloon. They said I should bring her in, just to be safe, since it was possible the swelling could interfere with her breathing. I was out in the driveway, with the address of the all-night clinic typed into my phone for navigation, when I stopped where I stood and asked the stars what I should do, because it was all too familiar and I didn't know how to tell how sick a dog was and she couldn't tell me either.

Remix hates the car and loves to walk. She wasn't helpful on whether this was a medical emergency, but she was pretty clear on wanting to take a walk in the moonlight. So that's what we did. Because I didn't want to make the same mistake twice, at least not in one day. Because a dog that wants to take a walk can't be that sick. Because sometimes when you don't know what to do, you should probably take a walk, and you might as well take the dog, too.

When we got back, she was still energetic and happy and Remix-y. I tentatively gave her a bowl full of water and she again drank it to the bottom. I sat with her on the pile of dirty towels and tried to decide if the swelling was any different. Twice, she burped, and I jumped up so fast to get away from the coming onslaught that I startled her. I watched her closely for any trace of a smile. Finally, I just took her out into the backyard, where she spent the time trying to find the pieces of upchucked dog food that I'd thrown out before.

After fifteen minutes, I decided that she was probably not going to hurl, so we came back inside. I started googling allergic reactions in dogs. She went back to pawing at her face. She scratched her head and rolled around on the futon, trying hard to scratch an itch that would not remain scratched. She trotted upstairs. I went looking for her, and found her with her head under the bed. I also found the hives. They were travelling up her legs, red and angry bumps that made her fur stick out unevenly as if she had a bad case of mange. They were on her stomach and her head, and they were starting to close her other eye. They had not been there half an hour ago.

Time to go to the vet. As I led her out to the car, I felt the familiar tug of a strong and resistant dog. I thought she wanted to go for a walk, but no, she was rolling around in the gravel in an effort to stop the itch.

I tried hard to figure out what lesson I should be learning. Because she wouldn't have gotten the penicillin, and thus this reaction, if I had not freaked out before, but here I was again, scared that my dog was going to die now because of what I had done when I thought she had been about to die before.

On the drive over, I lectured myself. I still wasn't sure that I wasn't overreacting again, but I wanted to stop second-guessing myself. This is the path you have chosen, and now you own it. I wondered how much it was going to cost. I asked myself how much I was willing to pay to save the dog, if it came to that. How much was Remix worth to me?

Again, at the vet, she was curious and interested and not sick-acting. But at least this time, she looked absolutely terrible. The nurse asked if they could go ahead and give her some anti-histamines and steroids, and I said yes, please. They brought her out again a few minutes later, and she already looked ten times better. The hives were not visible from a distance, and the swelling was not so noticeable. We were directed to an examination room to wait on the doctor. Remix sniffed around the empty room, then settled down at my feet.

A few minutes later, the doctor's face appeared at the window. Remix growled and barked. She's not a particularly barky dog, but she does dislike some people. As the doctor came in, Remix continued to act like a mean dog. I kept a strong hand on her collar and got a treat out of my bag to get her to be good. She sat again at my feet, eyes on the biscuit, occasionally turning around to growl. I apologized. It was embarrassing.

I told the whole story again, about the throwing up and the lying there, what the other doctor had said and done, about when Remix smiled and threw up on me. The conclusion was that the allergic reaction could have been from the penicillin or it could have been from whatever made her sick in the first place. Basically, if I was trying to learn anything from this experience, they sure weren't going to help me.

The doctor said that based on the blood tests, she really shood keep Remix overnight. I am no professional, but the gist of it was that the swelling could make the dog's blood sludgy. Remix had sludgy blood, but she was also pretty dehydrated, which is also a cause of sludge blood. So the doc was leaving it up to me, because it wasn't necessarily a dangerous situation and because Remix was so obviously unhappy. I could pay $400 to leave my dog here overnight with an IV drip, or I could take her home. I played the mean dog card and said I wanted to take her home.

So many decisions in one day. Each one felt like deciding whether my dog lived or died.

Since I was taking her home, they wanted to inject her with fluid. The nurse came in to take her back to for this procedure, and I guess the nurse passed the test, because Remix went to her like she couldn't wait to have another injection. They did a subcutaneous fluid injection, which pretty much means that they pump a bunch of water under the skin. Remix came back with a camel hump, a water pitbulloon. They said dogs had a lot of stretch and space in their bodies that allowed for that, and I just took their word for it, because it looked weird and terrible.

Finally, finally, finally, we left. $210. This time, I felt like I was getting off easy. I stopped on the way home for some Benedryl, which I was to give her if the swelling came back. She had some water and then immediately settled down for the night in a tight little ball on the futon. Her weird fluid sac stuck out at an unsettling angle.

The next day, she was fine. The fluid sac had moved to her side, but was smaller. The vet called to check on her and say he'd gotten a fax of the details of her nighttime visit. He said it was probably not the penicillin, but whatever had made her sick in the first place. I said sure, because it was free to lie. But I won't be letting them give her penicillin again. And next time she throws up, she can just watch cartoons on the couch for a while and feel bad like the rest of us.