Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stick and a Country

          In September of 2005, the first September we were no longer in school, Ryan and I drove across the country, only about two days after Hurricane Katrina. We were skeptical to even drive (what with gas prices threatening to tip over $3 a gallon...) but alas, Ry needed to begin his new job/life in Arizona, and my life was in a holding pattern. So we went. 
         Ry’s car was a Honda civic, and a stick at that. I feigned confidence, saying sure, I felt confident driving; in reality, I was scared shitless and had only driven a stick on the Neck: a place in my hometown with no stop signs or lights, just a continuous track. Think Mario Kart. But with mansions. 
        We departed mid-September on a Monday morning at 5am; at 10am driving through Bristol, CT, our conversation became as mundane as this: Ry: a friend of mine on my floor lived in Bristol. Me: Oh. Our topics were losing steam. By 1pm we had just finished our first third of Pennsylvania; have you ever driven through that fucking state? It lasts forever, and has the worst road kill of any highway anywhere. 
Ryan was fried and we pulled into a BBQ place and he resolutely said I’m not driving anymore. I’ve never gone past second in a stick shift, and now this prick expects me to reverse, then MERGE on to the I-80? I managed to get us on the highway, thank jesus, each moment almost needing to breathe into a paper bag. The poor kid was trying to take a nap in shotgun all the while my face and neck are breaking out into hives and I’d proclaim at the top of my lungs: I’M GOING INTO FIFTH! ok, fine Margaret he’d say, clearly annoyed at the fact that the thought of napping was now a distant memory. 
Ah, the open many mystical cities, so many, DeBuque.  
     The first morning waking up in Indiana, we discovered that our free spot to sleep in Chicago was no longer an option. Fine. It's cool! Whatever...but like, where the eff were we going to stay that night?? At a rest stop on the border of Illinois, we pulled out a map, trying to figure out our next move, when Ryan exclaimed as he looked at the state of Wisconsin: Adrienne Tack from Fond Du Lac! And there was Wisconsin all bright and shiny, a beacon of hope shaped like a mitten, inviting us up for the evening. It should be noted that my mother was born and raised in Fond Du Lac Wisconsin and her maiden name was Tack, hence the crazy ass nick name. A few phone calls later, we were headed to my Aunt Jen and Uncle Jeff’s house in Milwaukee for the night. 
     They warmly welcomed us and we spent a wonderful evening laughing and chatting with my Fargo accented relatives. I slept in my cousin Laura’s room whom we would be driving to the next night at Drake in Iowa. Oh Laura. She still had a Britney Spears poster on the wall circa Hit Me Baby One More Time. Ry slept in my cousin Phil’s room with  the primary colors as wall paper with a crucifix staring him down as he closed his eyes. 
      The next morning I woke up and spent some time with my Uncle Jeff in the kitchen--uncle/niece time, if you will. He was asking me about New York City and my time there; I said I think everyone should live there at least once to experience it, and toughen up a bit. Uncle Jeff raised that midwestern forehead of his and said, You Knoo? I think Sex and the City really liberalized our Laura. I just about snarfed my coffee. 
      When it was time for us to depart, we were learning the easiest way to Drake, where we were to be staying that evening with Phil and Laura. Uncle Jeff was giving us land marks to guide our way there when he said, And aftrrr that, it’s a straaet shat frum DaBuque. Ry and I looked at each other, then back at him; Uncle Jeff said: Yah knoo, DaBuque! He said it as if it contained the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and the Rocky Mountains all in one city. Uncle Jeff: I love you. Those words will be sound bites I’ll use until I die. 
     In the middle of Iowa (and corn) we drove past a huge boulder with spray paint on it that said: 9/11: We ain’t scared....seconds later Ryan shouted OF WHAT. I had to laugh. The person who wrote it probably hadn’t even been to New York; but hopefully by now they have. 

When we were at Drake, my cousin Phil was bar tending at the local watering hole for students; I met all of his friends while Ryan was sitting alone at the end of the bar enjoying the free popcorn the bar doled out. He was happier than a pig in shit; his two favorite food groups are bacon and popcorn, so he sat there with a beer and popcorn all night. The next morning we were getting directions to the one Starbucks in the area, and when we missed the exit, neither of us spoke to each other for the next 4 hours.
We lasted all the way through the Salt Flats in Utah (in the dark, I might one would have noticed us crash and die) and at times, 110 mph seemed like only 20. I met a woman named Wanda who was a cashier at a Nebraska rest stop that had a lifetime of memories on her face; her skin was like worn leather with blue eyeliner. 
This country is full of ironies; liberalism and fear, beauty and ugliness, accents and corn...lots of corn. The magnificence of the Rockies is the same to me as the beauty of China Town in San Francisco; all a part of this huge vast collective country. 
I’m lucky to have had that experience; I managed to survive with Ry in one car across thousands of miles, and I gained a deeper more profound appreciation for the space America. And I can drive stick now. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Heart Attack Cat

My father is known amongst family and friends as a cat whisperer. Growing up we had a cat named Sammy, and it’s safe to say this feline worshiped the ground my father walked on. In the early mornings before I’d get up for school, or even on weekends, I’d hear my father talking to someone about his plans for the day: So I think I’m gonna go run some errahnds; go to the dump and drop ah couple ah barrels ah leaves off then swing by the bank and the hahhd way-yah sto-wah. Brow furrowed, I’d think to myself: who the fuck is he talking to? I know my mother is still asleep, my sister’s not home...then who? Oh my god, he’s talking to the cat. 
I would sneak down stairs to see it first hand: My father would be looking down at Sammy and she’d be looking up at him, purring, almost nodding along. Sammy was in love with my father; he was her man. 
As the years wore on, Sammy became increasingly frail and was not able to jump on to the couch should she want to cozy up; she even lost a fang. Her health became so poor my father finally took her to the vet and was informed she potentially has a heart murmur. Would you like to give Sammy an MRI to be certain? 
In the privacy of his own home, only 20 minutes later, my father exclaimed: AN M-AHHH-I? Fo-wah a CAT?! You gottah be pullin’ my leg. M-ahh-i fowah a cat. Can you believe it? But Dad! My sister and I would plead: You love her, and she loves you!  She's at risk of having a heart attack! My father, still in shock, mumbling under his breath about the cost of an m-ahh-i. It was almost as if he was channeling Joe Pesci in Home Alone. Sam then got the nick name Heart attack cat.
In a last ditch effort to make Sam the cat feel more at ease about seeing the after life soon, my father decided to give her Fancy Feast; his version of Make A Wish for felines.  A day turned into a week which turned into a month, and before everyone’s eyes, Sammy had all but made a full recovery. She was jumping on the couch again, going in and out of the house--hell: she even had a little wiggle in her hips again. This fierce feline was in it to win it again and she wanted everyone to know. Wouldjah believe it Mah-grett?! All because ah Fancy Feast! my father would exclaim. 
Eventually time won the battle, and Sam the cat passed on. In front of the dryer. Due to my father’s early morning routine, he was the first one up and found her. I was sleeping at home that night, and he figured he’d better get rid of the body so I wouldn’t see her and freak out. He was protecting me from being sad. What does he do? He decides to stick her in a trash bag and stuff her in the barrel outside. The cat that worshiped the ground he walked on. He woke my mother up to tell her to tell me, and just like that, he was off to work. 
Later that afternoon, my mom broke the news to me: Sammy had died. I don’t think she was prepared for my reaction, as we had a very tumultuous relationship, Sam and I. I hated her and she hated me and that was all there was to it. As soon as I heard the words Sammy and died, I began sobbing. The two of us figured out what to do with her remains, and went to the barrel to take her out. I was wailing so loudly my mother told me to be quiet, because she was nervous about the neighbors hearing my sobs. After a conversation with my dad: Should we cremate her? CREE-MATE A CAT?! YOU GOTTAH BE KIDDIN ME! my father said over the phone. So, my mother and I began the task of figuring out what do with poor Sammy. We took turns laughing and sobbing, and at the end of the day realized her remains were perfectly suited to lie under a bird bath. Rest In Peace Sammy, and know that Dad still loves you.