Lechery, Inertia & Living To Fight Another Day: Time To Go Home

It was Sucra that convinced me that it was time to leave.

Sucra is, at most, twenty years old and runs a gift shop on the main street in Cabarete- the only street really. You cannot get anywhere without walking up this street. And Sucra is annoying the shit out of me.  The lechery of Latin America is well documented in my other blog – the constant hissing and being looked at like you´re something to eat. You don´t even notice it after a while. But Sucra takes it to a whole new level. I cannot walk down his side of the street without his long arm blocking the sidewalk.

¨Tattoo girl, you are so beautiful you need a bodyguard. I want to guard that body. I want to be your king and you will be my queen. Why won´t you talk to me? I dream about you. Those tattoos, that body- don´t ignore me. What´s your name? Why don´t you smile, oh my god, your smile.¨

Every now and then this is complemented with a rousing version of ´Beautiful Girl´by Akon.  Or a sad howl when I walk by as quickly as possible, iPod on, not making eye contact. Or I duck the arm.

I have three theories about this

a) He learned all of his English watching MTV dating shows.

b) As this place is full of hookers, he is a boy-hooker.

c) This is how Sucra amuses himself.

Whatever it is, it´s obnoxious and annoying.  And in a place where everyone is behaving poorly it´s hard to stand out. But now I can´t walk  down that side of the street. If I want the cash machine, anything past the first block, I have to cross the street and subject myself to the gauntlet of moto-taxi drivers who hang out on the side of the street. This is where obnoxious hits quantity over quality. There is the inevitable hissing, the comments, and the constant imploring for me to purchase rides or drugs from them.  Usually the police are standing three feet away, lending credence to the theory that the moto-taxis work in concert with the police.

There is no good option here.

I slept the first five days I was here. The place where I´m staying is a surf and kite board camp. It´s a lot like summer camp. Meals are included and everyone eats around one big table. At first this stymied me. I am not a joiner. I did not go to summer camp. I avoid enforced group activities. I almost got thrown out of AmeriCorps for refusing to attend mandatory bonding trips. But this is cheap, clean and easy and I felt like black death. The first few days I emerged from my room long enough to eat when I could and then went back to sleep. Now that I´m feeling better the days carry on with a lazy sameness.

Kiteboarders, something I had never seen before, are insane. They ride little snowboards hooked to these enormous kites that shoot out over the water at ridiculous speeds. When they jump they go ten, fifteen feet in the air and the wind seems to suspend them there forever, dangling in the sky, before they drop back into the water.  It´s fast, dangerous, expensive and difficult to learn. Most of them are European or Canadian and a lot of them travel almost constantly, chasing the wind from place to place.  Cabarete is famous for it´s tradewinds but weird weather has hit and there has only  been two days with enough wind in the past week, maybe four in the last twenty days. On windy days you see the kites, what seems like hundreds of them, in the water and wonder how they don´t tangle.

There are some surfers here, too, a smattering of windsurfers. But mostly kiteboarders, some on long stays. We sit around, we talk  boo-sheet. We complain about the food (which actually is really good, though you do see those tricks where yesterdays steak turns up as today´s beef stroganoff). We talk about wind and water. We talk about who´s coming and going. We have epic conversations about people wearing really inappropriate bathing suits. We don´t talk about our lives back home.

It´s an easy life. Everyone is friendly and funny. I sit with the British girls at dinner and we talk sheet. I pal around constantly with Stephane and Chad, a nurse from Portland. We sit on the porch of Stephane’s bungalow and hack open coconuts to get the juice. We drink endless cups of terrible coffee at the surf beach and chain smoke.  After dinner we sit around and compare customs stories. I show the German couple how to call bats; throwing rocks in the air to make them dive for them. We stand around the parking lot and do that. I wind up telling the Canadian guy how to get bats out of his house.  I make good friends with Kim, an absolutely brilliant British girl who grew up in the Middle East and we swap life stories and man problems

I could stay here forever, really.

But I can’t. As much fun as this is and as much as I’ve come to adore my friends here I can’t really justify hiding out here  and as good as I feel, the kibosh was put on a return to Haiti by a South African who made the brilliant point that I’m already weak from the first bout with whatever. For all the sociality, my one attempt at the ocean ended with me taking a serious beating and concluding that I really am not running at 100%.  And it’s not like the living conditions have gotten any better there since I left.  Port-Au-Prince will be substantially worse than Limbe. “Live to fight another day”, the South African tells me. “Do you really want to go back there and leave on a stretcher? What good does that do anyone?”.

Thus I book  a ticket home. It’s kind of an epic journey. First a bus to Santiago, then a night in the airport and a 3.30 AM flight to Fort Lauderdale. A couple of days there. Then Colorado.

The day of my departure the sun comes out and the wind kicks up for the first time in over a week, sending the kiteboarders scattering to the beach. I go to the surf beach in the morning, drink more cups of terrible beach coffee, take pictures for some of my friends who are surfing. After lunch I go back, pack up. My pack is so much smaller now. I jettisoned a lot of stuff in Haiti, more here. I say goodbye to a lot of people, trade email addresses, distribute my leftover bug repellant and sunscreen. Kim is headed out to the water and I say a quick goodbye to her, a big hug, a thank you for the mutual girl-talk-therapy-sessions. I sit on Stephane’s porch and have one last cup of coffee. Chad comes over. He’s leaving tomorrow to meet his girlfriend in Santo Domingo. “Of everyone here” he tells me, poking me in the bicep “you are the one I will  miss the most”.

He’s going to the beach so he’ll take me out to the road to get a taxi, carry my bag.  Stephane, with his perpetual cup of coffee and cigarette, walks us out to the gate. I’ve known Stephane since the day I left Haiti. When I was sick and sleeping all the time it was him that would yell outside my window for me to come out for dinner, a cup of coffee, a cigarette. I’ve spent hours a day doing nothing but sitting around – at the beach, on the porch – talking to Stephane.  He has been my best friend here. I hug him goodbye and turn back around and walk out the gate. He yells at me “Yeaaah, see you later, eh, Finn?” in his French accent and I don’t even turn around, I just wave a hand at him and go on walking, tears bubbling up. Chad squeezes my shoulder. When we find a cab he puts my bag in the back and hugs me again, hard. Quiet Chad, who doesn’t say anything forever and then just pops out with these bizarre stories that make me laugh for days after. Who is the only white guy I would ever trust to drive a motorcycle in a third world country. Who I’ve woken up numerous times by standing outside his window yelling that he needs to get his hungover ass out of bed for the surf bus. Who has threatened to kill me numerous times in the past week.  The driver tries to get me to sit in the front but I shove my bag over and sit next to it and cry the ten minute ride to Sosua.

Herein lies the issue with travel: you leave home and you miss those people. Then you meet new people who you have to miss, too. I think of Marcus, Donna, Kathyrn, Pete, Jon Tonti, Linda, Allen – this whole stream of people in my head I just miss.

Right now my bag smells like the living dead – laundry was a big issue the whole trip. In the absence of laundromats everything is hand washed, usually with hand soap. In the absence of dryers, it’s hung out to dry. Which never really happens in humid climates. I haven’t seen clean clothes, a consistently hot shower, green vegetables or a decent cup of coffee in weeks. But I’m already missing this group of people all sitting around in semi-clean damp clothes drinking terrible coffee.

Photo notes: 1) Kites up over Cabarete beach. 2) Simon, my next door neighbor at surf camp, up. Photo stolen from Simon but if he wants to make a big deal over it I have a really funny story about happy hour, cigars and me thinking my next door neighbor was dead because not a peep came out of that room for 36 hours due to epic hangover. It would make a wicked blog entry. Kidding, Simon. Kidding. 3) Stephane, Chad, another surf camper and I walking back to camp, photo stolen from Kim. Stephane is one with face blacked out. Miss you, buddy.

Reeking and Freezing In Paradise/Boulder Interlude: An Australian Playlist Swap

Reeking & Freezing In Paradise

The last thing I did on my way to the airport in Florida was mail a big box of stuff back to Colorado. When I had been stuck there dealing with my mother’s accident Florida had been going through an odd cold snap. Luckily I had some extra warm clothes with me. Clothes, I thought, I would not need in Haiti. So I packaged up my laptop, most of the remaining warm clothes, some books and shipped them all back to Colorado.

Big fucking mistake.

I am now freezing my ass off in paradise.

When I get to the surf camp the temperature in the DR drops – an unexpected cold snap. Trouble and cold, it seems, are following me around. It’s rainy and damp and chilly and my warm clothes have been reduced to one pair of warm socks, jeans and a thin sweatshirt. My first night at camp I head off to dinner wearing this, sneakers and about four shirts under the sweatshirt. Incidentally all my warm clothes smell like Haiti. They were in the pack with what I salvaged and even though they had retained the smell I knew I would need them for the flight back.

Welcome to summer camp for adults. Let’s meet everyone in clothes that smell like rot and despair when you’re half dead.

I didn’t know yet about the amorphous dinner time. Elena told me dinner was at 7. Stephane, who shows up to come to dinner with me, says get there at 7.30. When we get there at 7.30 there is almost no one there. Slowly people start to trickle in. Much to my relief pretty much everyone is grubby and layered. The only exception is people who came with no warm clothes at all and had to raid the surf shops and souvenir stands. Apparently there’s not even that many places that sell sweatshirts here so a couple of people are wearing the exact same sweatshirt.

That said there’s about twenty strangers, one very long table, and a lot of benches. And I am tired and unsure about my ability to eat or stay awake. Intimidating.

As people come in everyone greets Stephane, orders a beer, sits down. I’m on orange juice. Most everyone is European, in their twenties and thirties, tan and healthy looking. A lot are here for longer stays – two weeks, three weeks, a month. A few, like Stephane, are on the multi-month plan. Some are here for a kite boarding instructor course which takes about ten weeks. While there are a few surfers and windsurfers almost everyone is here for kite boarding. More on kite boarding, which is insane, later. But the kite boarders need wind to get out on the water and there has been none for days. Now it’s cold and windless.

Like regular camp there’s a lot of talk about the food – speculation as to what we’re going to get, what dishes turn up regularly. Taco night is exciting. Goulash night not so much. I’m keeping quiet, listening to everyone talk. It’s a tight knit group and I am the new kid. Apparently on weekends the table swells with people who just come for a few days but during the week the majority of the people are the long termers.

Everyone is friendly. A couple of people ask and I give the abridged version of the Haiti story, explain that I’m a little sick right now. It’s easier than I thought it would be. The conversation is light and funny. No one really talks about their lives back home. After the intensity of Haiti it’s a relief. Sitting there in my reeking clothes I think I have made a good choice, that this is what I need.

It’s taco night. There is some sort of machismo contest about who can eat the most. I make it through two. Stephane makes it to eight. The win goes to a disarmingly goofy and friendly young British kid who bears a startling resemblance to Kurt Cobain. He makes it through ten.

The two tacos do me in. As everyone else hangs out and drinks and boo-sheets I head back to my room. It’s ass cold but Elena dug up a blanket for me. I fold it double, find my clean towel and throw that on top of it, too. Then I crawl between the sheets and crash out under my pile of improvised bedding.

This is what my life will look like for the next five days or so: I read. I sleep. The cold snap sticks around for a few days and I eat in my reeking clothes with everyone else. Washing anything is impossible – there’s no dryer and it’s wet for clothes to dry on the line. I get moved to a nicer bungalow with a bathroom. This one overlooks the lagoon too. Sometimes Stephane stops by with coconuts and a pocket knife and we sit on my porch and drink the juice straight from the coconuts and smoke cigarettes. Occasionally I walk out to the internet café or to the store for water but mostly I sleep. I live on the periphery of the camp, not really joining in but being friendly and getting my strength back.

And it is good.

Boulder Interlude: I Put You On A Pedestal, They Put You On The Pill

As we get closer and closer to the end of the story – or at least the part about being in Haiti and the DR – I have to interlude more and more. I don’t know what will happen to this blog once I get to the end of the story. Do I let it go and start a new one that’s just domestic stuff? Do I cut the ‘Haiti’ out of the title and keep it? If anyone has suggestions please feel free to email me. I have no frickin’ clue.

I am sitting on the patio of a bar on Pearl Street in Boulder with Chance and Aimee drinking toxicly strong margaritas and trying to avoid having a conversation with the creepy guy sitting behind me who is desperate to tell me about his ‘intuition’ and what ‘my body is telling him’. I had been refusing to turn around and even look at him, thinking this meant my body was telling him ‘stay the fuck away from me’. Apparently I was dead wrong. Creepy.

And then there are Australians.

I have a theory about Australians: when England created a prison colony there so many years ago they didn’t just send the prisoners, they sent the most charismatic, social prisoners – the ones that might charm themselves out of jail. Big strapping lads with the ability to have a fun conversation with a tree stump. Drop dead gorgeous women who could make a corpse laugh. Australia has created a race of the uber-charismatic. Australians are like American Express cards – they’re everywhere you want to be.

And now the patio has two of them. Both named Paul.

Immediately we go from being a congregation of separate tables to a big circle with the Australians at the center. Then we are in a contest – even creepy guy, who cannot peel his eyes or his intuition off of me – to name ten Scottish bands. Ten Australian bands. Top ten love songs.

Then somehow me and the taller Paul are frantically scribbling playlists on napkins. The shorter Paul promises to send me the ‘Dogs in Space’ soundtrack when he gets back to Melbourne. The top ten songs on our iPod turns into ‘songs you need to buy right now’ and gets into the twelves and thirteens and fifteens. ‘A New England’ by Billy Bragg makes it onto both of our lists and we are out front smoking and singing “I put you on a pedestal, they put you on the pill….”.

Then it’s time to go find cupcakes and Chance and Aimee and I head off down Pearl St, my back pocket stuffed full of scribbled-on napkins.

This is what I gave him:

  1. Exit Wounds – Tim Barry
  2. Going Once Going Twice – Ramona Falls
  3. She’s My Ride Home – Blue October
  4. 4 AM In Texas – 7 Seconds
  5. Shut Up & Listen – The New York Citizens
  6. Can’t Feel A Thing – Lucero
  7. Trying – Dag Nasty
  8. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley or Leonard Cohen version
  9. Zippers and Jeans – Harlan T. Bobo
  10. Into The Open – Heartless Bastards
  11. 156 – Mew
  12. Monkey’s Gone To Heaven – The Pixies
  13. Rainy Night in Soho – The Pogues
  14. Who Are You? – Tom Waites
  15. Pal Norte – Calle 13
  16. Oh! Libertine – Viva La American Death Ray Music
  17. The Night – Morphine

This is what I find on the napkin,  the Australian playlist:

  1. Greetings To The New Brunette – Billy Bragg
  2. I The Kite – Centromatic
  3. Black Angel – Black Cab
  4. Trouble Weighs A Ton – Dan Auerbach
  5. Mansion of Los Feliz – The Eels
  6. Sequestered In Memphis – The Hold Steady
  7. Get To Leave – Howe Gelb
  8. Brand New Angel – Jeff Bridges
  9. Restless – Longhorne Slim
  10. Little Lion Man – Mumford and Son
  11. Chicago – Rogue Wave
  12. Help Yourself – Sad Brad Smith
  13. Where There’s Son – Thrift Store Cowboy
  14. 5 Years Time – Noah and Whale

I don’t get all of it – I’m too cheap. And some of what I do get I’m not crazy about – Jeff Bridges, for instance. But for the most part his playlist is damn good. I’m obsessive about music – when I find a song I like I’ll listen to it over and over again. Noah and the Whale and Black Cab wind up on my repeat list. I love new music – finding a good song to put on repeat is like making a new friend. The napkin is full of shiny, sparkly little treasures.

Since I started this blog I’ve gotten some mail off of it. Not as much as I did off Sarna Dogs, but I do get the odd stranger email. If you’re one of those folks that feels inclined to send me a random email, send me a playlist.

***This entry is for Lindsey – sorry it’s a whole lotta nothin’, an interim one, really. But you told me this distracts you so I sat down today determined to keep tellin’ the story, even the boring bits.  All my good thoughts***

Photo notes – 1) my bungalow at the surf camp. You can’t see the lagoon but the porch overlooks it.  2) Restaraunt with long dinner table at left and bar at right. 3) Australian napkin playlist.

Getting There: Ain’t No Vomit Comets in the DR/You Can’t Hate Elena

The Dominican Republic is just too frickin’ civilized.

In Nicaragua I saw the best bus fight ever. I wasn’t even on that particular bus, I was on a different bus but our driver pulled over to watch. It was Semana Santa, Holy Week – the big vacation time – and all the buses were packed. Apparently a few drunk guys got into a fight on the other chicken bus, the old school buses that are privately owned and operated and usually sketchy but how everyone gets around there. By the time we pulled up cops had waded into the fight bus – which had to be loaded to three times human capacity – with billy clubs and guns on their back and were just chucking people off. Once they got the drunks they beat the shit out of them, shoved them in the back of a police pick-up and got back on the bus to talk to the driver.  The offending drunks, bloodied and bruised, just sat in the back of the police pickup with no handcuffs. The cops there have AK-47’s. No one was going to make a run for it. Probably why there’s very little crime in Nicaragua, too.

It was a hell of a show.

That just ain’t going to happen in the Dominican Republic. I haven’t seen one chicken bus since I left Haiti, just luxury buses. Which is nice in that I don’t have to spend the trip to the surf camp desperately having to pee while someone’s pillowcase full of baby ducks slams into the back of my calves and people take cell phone pictures of my tattoos. It’s bad in that, well, it’s boring.  I always admired the tenacity of Nicaraguan travel. You could take a 1960’s school bus, shoot holes in it, paint “HOLY FUCK, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE” on the side of it in huge letters, plaster the whole thing with St Jude, patron saint of lost causes and people would still spend eighty cents to ride on it. Not that I’ve ever seen one exactly like that but close.

And I’m certainly not going to see one like that in the Dominican Republic. Oh well.

To get to Cabarete, where the surf camp is, you have to take a bus to Sosua and then from there a cab to Cabarete. A nice luxury bus that sets me back a whopping $2. Unlike the one into Haiti, this one doesn’t even have to be watered every few miles. It’s clean with big cushy seats and pretty empty. Stephane and I choose rows across from each other and I put on my iPod and look out the window. I hadn’t realized how well off this country is or how much agriculture it has. The Dominican Republic has done well with everything. The fields were clean, neat and well tended. The cities were pretty and relatively free of litter. This is the third world? Really?

Stephane is the ideal travelling partner. He knocks on the door to my room to get me up to make the bus, gets us a cab to the station, makes sure there’ll be a room for me once we get to the camp. I’m still sick enough to be in various states of out-of-it-ness and when we get to Sosua he haggles with the cab driver.

Sosua is enough of a shit hole that it makes me feel a little less like a candy ass. The streets are lined with cheap hotels and bars. There’s some bakeries and pharmacies that look nice but there also seems to be a big hooker issue. As a result, there’s a big old-gross-expats-who-love-young-hookers issue and you see them wandering around the crumbling sidewalks, the women lurching towards the crappy hotels on enormous heels with paunchy seventy year old European guys glued to their side. Nice.

We throw our stuff in the cab and escape without even walking around. Stephane has been through here before and I am exhausted and have no desire to play explorer in Hooker Central. The cab goes down a long, straight road and I can see glimpses of the Caribbean through the palm trees that line the road. Then we are pulling into Cabarete. It’s all centered along one long strip that borders the beach. There are modern buildings and condo complexes and souvenir stands and shops and realty offices. This is usually not the kind of place I can afford to be. Stephane has the driver drop us at the grocery store and I stock up on water, a few snacks and a cheap bottle of wine. The wine is an optimistic purchase – no drinking until I am off the antibiotics and substantially better. But you can’t pass up a $3 Chilean Cabernet.

From the store we walk the quarter mile down the road, past a guarded gate. The guard greets Stephane by name. They missed him. A couple of moto-taxi drivers hang out around the gate, hoping to catch people coming out but we’re headed in the wrong direction. From there it’s another quarter mile down a dirt road and then another wall and then the surf camp.

The first two things I notice are that everything is painted bright colors and that I really, really want to hate the girl who greets us in the office. She is gorgeous, Russian, wearing adorable clothes and speaks flawless English. I am a woman, we are like this – you either want to be her or hate her. Meet Elena. Who is, unfortunately, as cool and nice as she is perfect and thus completely un-hateable. I will find out talking to her later that she speaks something like seven languages and manages to keep the surf camp from turning into a total zoo, a Herculean task.

Basically the place is comprised of a bunch of little bungalows on a lagoon. All the bungalows have little porches with benches. There’s one big luxury apartment above the laundry area. Then there’s a big villa where Ali, the owner, lives. There’s a couple of multi room apartments there as well. There’s also a covered open air kitchen/bar/dining room where the meals are served. It has one big table that, I’m told, everyone eats around. Visions of junior high school who-sits-with-who dance through my head but I shove them back. This is fine. We are all grown ups. I am not a fat girl with a lisp anymore. These are my people. This will be fine.

Most of the bungalows are connected. Pretty much all of them have private baths but for the first night I’m given the one connected to the office that doesn’t. There’s a  bathroom about ten feet outside the door. There’s a dock that goes out into the lagoon and a few paddle boards to use.

I’ll move you tomorrow, Elena promises, to one with a bathroom. The room has a ceiling fan, a sink, a nice bed, and a mosquito net. My porch overlooks the lagoon. It’s perfect. Stephane has one of the more luxurious bungalows – it’s the room he’s stayed in since he got there months ago and he gets it back immediately. Elena listens to our respective Haiti misadventures with sympathy and points me towards the book exchange in the office, tells me she hopes I feel better.

You cannot hate Elena. She is awesome and sincere. Damn her.

The whole place is beautiful. Obviously budget but beautiful.

Dinner is at 7-ish, breakfast is at 8-ish and lunch, if you want it, is at the beach house down the street. I just pay for two meals a day. I’m barely eating one now as it is and I’m too cheap to pay for optimism. The surf bus leaves at 8.30 and at 2 PM but I’m too tired to even contemplate that.

What 7-ish really means is that everyone shows up at the restaurant at around 7.30 and orders a beer and boo-sheets until 8 PM when they finally drop the food, at which point everyone sucks it down and keeps drinking but I won’t learn that until later. For right now I take my book, my summer-camp trepidation, my gallon of water and antibiotics and tromp off to my room to crash until dinner.

Tonight I have to learn to be a little social again. For right now I nap.

Welcome home.

**A note on title – vomit comet – another term for chicken buses. Also called chicken-and-goat-express.**

Photo notes:  boosted photo of what will probably eventually move to Central America to become chicken bus. Inside of luxury bus. Office at Ali’s Surf Camp as seen from right inside gate.

Colorado Interlude: Cranky, Half Blind, Always Hungry & Perfect/Hat Trick/The Vulture Tree

Cranky, Half Blind, Always Hungry & Perfect

It looks like there was an ice cream fight in the Beetle. Vanilla soft serve is smeared on the dashboard, the passenger seat, the steering wheel. It’s in the cup holders and making a gluey mess on the carpet. Last week I spent two hours detailing the inside of the car and now it looks like a snowstorm hit it.

Not only is it all over the car, my hands are sticky with it. Mercy, who is contentedly asleep, is covered in it. The top of one enormous bat ear is flecked with white as is her muzzle and her paws.

I didn’t eat any of it. Whatever didn’t wind up smeared all over my car, she ate. I bought it for her. It’s very hot out. She likes ice cream.

Ice cream is terrible for dogs.

So is rawhide, which has become her newest hobby, eating yogurt off my spoon, the entire beet my roommate gave her, and the 1/2 pound of raw almonds I split with her. Only the almonds upset her stomach. Her stomach, usually a temperamental nightmare, has stood up admirably to the onslaught of crap food.

Mercy is fifteen and has Cushing’s Disease. Cushing’s Disease, for those who don’t know, is a benign tumor on the adrenal gland that causes the body to overproduce adrenaline. The symptoms are hair loss, crankiness, constant hunger, a pendulous abdomen and muscle atrophy.

As she usually hates everyone and eats everything, it wasn’t until she started losing fur that I got the idea something might be wrong. The pendulous abdomen was written off as old lady gut. The muscle atrophy, which happened gradually, I thought was just the result of her getting lazier since she retired from dog sports a few years back.  But about a year and a half ago her blood work came back funky – early kidney and liver failure, odd levels on things. Further tests confirmed Cushing’s Disease.

Mercy and I have been together for over thirteen years. When I got her she was young, mean, wild, brilliant and obsessive. She terrorized my two other dogs. She stole things. She dug voles up from the yard and killed them. She even got a raven once but it got away. She didn’t relate well to people – she is aloof and occasionally actively aggressive.

She was a nightmare. In some sort of effort to harness the sheer evil intelligence I started taking her to classes. Obedience. She aced it. Advanced obedience. She practically laughed at the other dogs. Agility. Too much precision work, too much concentration. Hated it. Sheep herding. Had fun her, was totally fearless and had good drive but too expensive for me. Flyball. She picked it up in a day and loved it. She loved it enough that she didn’t even try to kill the other dogs. I put her in competition and for years it seemed we were on the road every weekend for a tournament somewhere. British Columbia. Oklahoma. Iowa. Texas. Utah. Alberta.

For most of my adult life I’ve had jobs that were dog friendly. She came to the office with me, always sitting on the back half of my office chair so I had to scooch my butt up to the very front to sit down. My co-workers gave her treats and she traumatized the other office dogs as well as any children that happened by. Merc hates children.

Thirteen years have calmed her down some. She still is not much for strangers or being patted. She snuggles with me and the ex but doesn’t much care to have other people touch her. About four years ago she retired from flyball. She divides her time between me, wherever I am, and living with my ex and the rest of his dogs in the mountains. I’ve had her the past week – a week full of ice cream, rawhide, whole beets and all around poor pet ownership.

At fifteen she is nearly blind, bald in spots, more stubborn about food, more barky. In some ways I appreciate Merc more now than I ever did before. I lost my other two dogs, my beloved boys, fairly unexpectedly. Seamus died suddenly at age eighteen. Simon was diagnosed with sarcoma, also at age eighteen, and was gone in three weeks. Even months and years later the hurt is so fresh I’ve never managed to write about either of them. Mercy’s Cushing’s Disease, as much as I hate it, gives me the luxury of time. Mercy will be here next month and the month after but it seems dubious that she can make another year. I have time for ice cream and rawhides and long car rides to nowhere just because she really, really wanted to get in the car even though we were just supposed to be going for a walk. In knowing that she is sick I have permission to spoil her, to throw all of my old rules about appropriate treats and being decent to strangers out the window.

I never knew, with my boys, that the time was running out until it was almost gone. Logically I knew they were old and old dogs die but it’s still a shock when it happens. Losing the boys taught me this appreciation, this cognizance of time running out. I hoard this week, this stupid seven days of her crashed out on my pillow and barking at me endlessly for a piece of sandwich, like money. I make a point of memorizing the sound of her snoring in the front seat, take a mental picture of her rolling on her back in the grass.

I know now.

Hat Trick: A Recurring Theme

Years ago I interviewed for a job at a hat company, right after I left animal sheltering. It was the worst interview of my life. Not because the woman was rude – she wasn’t. She was very nice. The whole interview went seamlessly. There was a nice tour of the hat factory and the warehouse. I was introduced around. It was lovely, really. Until we got to the end of the tour and whatnot and she sat me down, looked me in the eye and asked me the worst interview question ever:

“So how do you feel about hats?”.

If anyone has a good fucking answer for that one, let me know. I know how to answer all the bullshit questions you always get asked in interviews – where you see yourself in five years, what are your biggest strengths and weaknesses, blah blah blah. But how do I feel about hats? How the hell am I supposed to feel about hats?

In reality I hate hats.

No, I did not say that. Instead I stuttered out something about keeping the sun out of your eyes and the importance of accessorizing. Obvious bullshit. Obvious. I did not get the job. I assume it went to someone who was passionate about hats.

I argue with myself about what I hate more: hats or the way my forehead freckles in the sun. Freckles are adorable on fair skinned, light eyed people. Freckles are not adorable on Black Irish girls with an olive undertone to their skin and hazel eyes. In thirty five years no amount of zinc or SPF 8000 has managed to keep the forehead freckling from occurring.

This year I resolve to wear a motherfucking hat if I’m going to be out in the sun. I have a couple of cute ones – a pink and brown trucker cap. A little Gap army hat. A Billabong cap.

For the first time this year I put on The Hat. I’m taking Merc for a long walk and it’s sunny and then I have to work outside for a while. I put on the trucker hat, braid my hair into pigtails, put on extra lipstick, my darker black glasses. A-fucking-dorable.

The problem with hats is that once you start the day with a hat, you are married to it for the rest of the day. Hat head. After I’m done outside I go run errands, still wearing The Hat.

The guy at 7-11, usually so friendly, don’t seem to recognize me. When I hand him the money for my soda he looks at me hard for a second.

Sorry, he says, it’s The Hat. Weird. You don’t look like you.

I go to my favorite thrift shop, the one with the outrageously expensive clothes for ridiculously cheap. $200 jeans for $8. J. Crew sundresses for $4. My favorite girl is working there, the one who goes through picking out clothes for me, chopping the prices down on everything. I love her.

The Hat, she says, it has to go. She hands me a little checked sundress, a pair of jeans and a long Body Glove sweater. $2o for the whole lot of it, she tells me, and I know you’re iffy on the sweater but it’s perfect for you. When I come out with the sundress on she grins approvingly.

See? She says. You’re such a tiny little thing with those big long legs but you would never know with That  Hat. It, like, makes you look bigger. You can’t wear hats. You need to throw that out.

Last time I wore the little Gap hat someone told me I look like a female Che Guevara. I’m sure someone else would find that sexy or a compliment but I didn’t. Thanks, comrade.

In Nicaragua I bought a girly knock-off Billabong hat from a street vendor to wear during surgeries – keep the ticks off, keep the hair out of my eyes. Street vendors, who usually would slap their grandparents to sell you something, frowned when I tried it on. No me gusta, she said and handed me a bandana. Mejor.*

I bought it anyway and wore it twice.

How do I feel about hats? I feel like they’re great for some people but they make me look like an unrecognizable chunky revolutionary.

That’s what I should have said.

A Weird Aside: The Vulture Tree

As the end of my two month sublet in Ft. Collins comes up I notice The Vulture Tree. I had always noticed this one huge pine tree at the end of my street in Olde Town had a bunch of large birds circling it all the time but I never paid much attention. Crows, I assumed. Ravens. Big ones. The tree smelled funky and there’s always mountain of bird crap underneath it.

The other day I look up and on the branch, ten feet above me, is a vulture. A large, disturbing vulture staring at me with this look in it’s beady little eye like it’s wondering what I would taste like as roadkill.

In the middle of downtown this tree is full of vultures. They must nest up there. That’s what the smell is.

Vulture trees, in case you’re wondering, smell like wet dog hair and barbeque sauce. I have no idea why. And the whole thing is fucking creepy.

*no me gusta – I don’t like it. Mejor – better.

Photo notes: 1)Mercy as professionally photographed five years ago. 2) Merc racing in St. George, Utah – 2006 (?). 3) Mercy taking up the back half of my desk chair last week. 4) The girly rip-off Billabong hat. Viva la lack of good sense – I will tell you I look like shit in hats and then post a picture of myself wearing one to prove it. Nicaragua, 2009 5) Turkey vulture photo, boosted. Yes they look that. Gah.