Tales from my Surfboard Part 5: Ren Faire

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Lily had a 3-day weekend off from work and decided to come out to New York to visit me. I only had the weekend, but that was ok. It was the early to mid-2000s, when I was still working in radio. One of the perks of working in radio was that we sometimes would do things in trade. 

Businesses would donate their product or service to us in exchange for radio spots. Of course, these were in addition to their paid spots. We could use the donated items for on-air giveaways, which gave more exposure to the business. Some of the items we could have as employees. We were limited to one item every 6 months. 

One item I chose every year was tickets to the Sterling Renaissance Faire. 

Lily arrived that Friday night once I was out of work. It could be a 7-8 hour drive from the Cape, depending on traffic. Of course, on a Friday, it seemed like she hit all the traffic from the Cape bridges to Boston to Albany to Syracuse. Still, she was generous with her time. Even after spending the day driving, she made dinner for me when I got home from work that night.

After dinner, we went into the backyard, where there was a firepit and some lawn chairs. Of course, there was radio too. I worked in traffic, which has absolutely nothing to do with traffic on the roadways, it is about traffic on the airwaves. I was the one responsible for programming my stations, telling it when to play music, when to play weather, and when to play commercials. If one of my stations was off-air, then it was either my fault in programming or some larger technological issue over which I had no control (like the transmitter tower being buried in snow). 

This was a hot August weekend, so Lily and I were in the yard and built a fire. We had the radio going. Not only so I could listen to be sure it was on the air, but also because I genuinely liked one of my stations.

We had a bottle of vodka to make gimlets. We stayed up late into the night drinking vodka gimlets by the fire with the radio playing. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes not. We didn’t need to always be talking to each other to enjoy one another’s company. We stayed up late into the night when we decided it was time for bed. 

We did not have any set time to get up in the morning. We just planned to get up whenever. It was about and hour and a half to two hour drive to Sterling. The faire did not start until 10 or maybe 11 am.

Saturday morning arrived bright and beautiful. We each packed an overnight bag. This time, we packed my corolla. We were in NY, and Lily already had a long drive to get here, so of course we would be taking my car and I would be driving to save her on driving. 

It was a gorgeous day for a drive. We listened to our driving music – typically Dave Matthews Band, as we headed northwest towards Great Lake Ontario. We made it to Sterling and parked in the grassy field as indicated. We spent the morning wandering the faire arm in arm. We loved how the people at the faire would stay in character and engage faire-goers “in the street.” We were all part of the show whether we intended to be or not. 

About lunch time, we had our time period lumch of turkey legs and mead. We watched the joust on the field. After the joust, we wandered once again, taking in the sights and the atmosphere. 

Lily and I ended up involved in a (staged) fight over some perceived slight. It had rained the night before in Sterling, so there was ample amounts of mud. It ended up being a fight in a mud pit and it was one of the best acts that both of us ever saw. We even ended up with mud on us too! There are little boundaries between act and spectator at the ren faire.

Lily happened to notice something new this year on the water. We made our way over to a small land-locked lake for the pirate show. Imagine being on a real boat in water, surrounded by pirates! It felt like we were on set for a movie scene. It was wonderful. 

The ren faire closed at dusk. We decided to head back to Oswego, where we had booked a hotel room on Great Lake Ontario to spend the night. Dinner was in order and we found this amazing sports bar on the pier called the Penalty Box.

It was only August, yet there was hockey on all the TVs inside the Penalty Box. Lily and I were in heaven! It was so great to be able to see hockey in August. After dinner, we took a walk on the pier and headed back to our hotel.

Our hotel room was right on the water. We sat on the balcony watching the ships in the harbor and the lights of bouys dancing in the dark. I remember telling Lily we had to get up early for breakfast. She did not quite understand why, but went along with it.

Sunday morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast. I hardly ever got up this early, but it was worth it. I was taking Lily to Charlie’s. 

Charlie’s has no phone, no address, and no sign. It’s one of those places that you have to just know where it is. Typically people find out about it because someone else took them there. We drove to the middle of town and I started counting streets to try to get there – that’s how I remembered where it was. 

When you arrive at the building, it doesn’t look like a restaurant. It doesn’t even look like a building. It looks like a large dumpster sitting there waiting to be picked up or an old boxcar that was left behind and is just sitting there forlorn.

You park on the street and walk into the boxcar. It opens at 6am. There is no set closing time. Closing time happens whenever they run out of food. Closing time could be 7am, 9am, 10am. 

You sit at a table and just wait. There is no menu. It is breakfast only and you eat what is served. 

The waitress brings coffee and orange juice. Then, she brings the breakfast of the day. The most amazing omletes that melt in your mouth, fill the whole plate, and taste better than any omelet you have ever had. I have also had French toast there that is the best French toast anywhere. Everything is served with hash browns, sausage and bacon, so it is a full American breakfast.

When you are done, there is one price for the breakfast you are served. There is a box up front for you to pay for your meal. No waitress is needed to check you out. You just put $10 per person in the box and you are done. Of course, you can put more or less than that in the box. It is an honor system. The place does a brisk business and always sells out of food well before noon each day, so I am sure they are doing fine. Remember to tip your waitress as well. 

When you stop to put your money in the box, you can see into the kitchen through the window. There is one man in there – Charlie, the owner. He cooks all the food every morning. There are two waitresses. 

After breakfast, we leave to go back to my apartment. Lily understands why we got up so early for breakfast. It’s just one of those places you either know about or you don’t.

Lily and I went to the ren faire together for a few years. It made for a fun summer outing in NY when we were not in MA on the Cape. 

Stay tuned for more memories of remembering those lost to COVID … 

Tales from my Surfboard Part 4: Contemplation Rock

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Lily had taken a week off from work and wanted to come out to New York to visit. I could only get a 4-day weekend off from work and was worried about her being bored the other days of her trip. When I was on the Cape, I had waves to ride and beaches to explore. Upstate New York has more cows than people. Quite frankly, it’s boring.

We decided to organize a reunion of college friends that same week. Instead of coming to my apartment, Lily did some research and chose a location in the Adirondacks that was about equidistant for everyone. Well, it was equidistant between me and our friends. Lily had a bit more of a trip from the Cape, but she said she didn’t mind.

There was a small grouping of about 5 campsites together in a loop on a lake in the most remote part of the Adirondack Park that we reserved for the week. Lily and I shared a tent on the water. The other four sites were occupied by friends we had gone to college with. People could set up their tent, come and go as they pleased. We spend nights by campfire playing cards. This was our reunion.

Everyone had arrived on Monday. The four days I had off meant I was there Wednesday through Saturday. I felt bad I was not there for camp set up or tear down, but those were the days I could get off from work. Lily had an old coleman tent from growing up that she set up on our site. I brought an extra cooler with me to replenish supplies of both ice and food. I remember that Lily had brought a whole watermelon to share with everyone. There was no room in the coolers for it, so we floated it in the water to keep it cool. She was able to place branches in a section of the water in a way that would keep the watermelon in one spot and prevent it from floating away into the rest of the lake, or sinking. 

Because we were on a land-locked lake, there would be no surfing this trip. Lily did use the roof rack on the car to bring the canoe. Before the Prius, there was the Subaru. During the day, we had great times with our college friends. We went off hiking in a group on the trails. We would hang out at one campsite for meals, everyone contributing something to the meal. There was music blaring, card games played, and memories made. 

The first day was cloudy, but dry. I remember that night it started raining. It rained the rest of the time we were there. No matter that we changed into dry clohes, it was like we could not escape the rain or the damp.

There was a lull in the rain the second night I was there. It was late – dark – and Lily and I were in the tent. We were changing into dry clothes and still felt damp after all the rain. Everyone else seemed to be asleep – it was into quiet hours for the campground, so if people were up, they were not making any noise that extended beyond their own campsite. 

The rain had stopped, or, at least, it was more of a fine mist. Lily looked at me with a grin and asked “how about a walk?” I grinned back and nodded. We did this a lot on the Cape. Late at night, in the wee hours of the morning, we would take off for a walk on the beach. We had some of our best conversations that way whether we said anything or not. You know how it is with that one person – how you can have a complete conversation with them without saying anything at all?

Lilly and I put some extra layers on, as it was chilly out. We left the tent and Lilly immediately headed towards the water. There was a giant rock on the lake, a little bit offshore. Lily insisted she wanted to go out and sit on the rock so we could be in the middle of the lake to look at the stars and the moon. I didn’t know how we could possibly get to the rock without getting in the water. With all the rain, we were pretty much wet all day anyway, so why not? 

Taking the canoe out would have been illegal without a light. I could tell that Lily just wanted to be in the moonlight. Somehow, in the dark and the fog, Lily managed to find smaller rocks to step on and use to get to the large rock safely without having to go into the water. We jumped from rock to rock like it was the lava game you play as a child.

When we got to the rock we sat cuddled together for warmth. I remember leaning back and just gazing at the stars. We were in the least inhabited part of the Adirondack Park. When you looked at the night sky, there were so many stars, it was like gazing into Heaven. You could see the entire universe from there, or at least, it felt that way. 

We could definitely see more stars than what we saw on Cape Cod. Even at night on the Cape, there was always lights. There were lighthouses and buoys providing guidance and safety to passing boats and ships in the night. 

In the middle of the Adirondacks, there was nothing but wilderness. We had camped in the middle of 14,000 acres of nothingness. It is the least inhabited area of New York State. The stars in the sky go on forever.

We gazed at the stars for I don’t know how long. It felt like forever, and it was a beautiful forever. It was one of those nights where you just didn’t want it to end, and it didn’t – until it did.

It felt like we were the only two people in the universe, sitting on a rock in the middle of a lake gazing at the stars. In an attempt to not break the magic of the moment, Lily spoke in a whisper, “we can do this, right?”

I knew what she was asking. We were in a long distance relationship. I had left Massachusetts to come back to New York for school. Lily had stayed in Massachusetts. I had wanted to stay with her, but I couldn’t. The small liberal arts college we had attended cut my major. I was there on scholarship. I needed to complete my education. Unfortunately, that meant coming back to New York where I still had residency and tuition was cheaper.

Even though I had absolutely no clue the answer – I had no idea if we could do it or not – I gave her the only answer I could – “yes” – because in that moment, I believed.

We whispered into the night, talking over the logistics of our situation. We both had goals we were trying to achieve. Life took unexpected twists and turns in our endeavor to reach those goals. We were up against some pretty daunting odds. The world at the time was a scary place. There were so many things to navigate.

Despite all the hurdles, we spoke of our hopes and dreams that night. I believed. I believed we would make them all come true. “Yes, Lily. We can do this. We’ve got to.”

Little did we both know what lay ahead of the two of us over the next 23 years. We didn’t know all the twists and turns life and society would take. 

In that moment, sitting there on Contemplation Rock, as we came to call it, we both believed that no matter what life would bring, we would always come back to each other, even if it was only as ships passing in the night. 

Stay tuned for another Tale from my Surfboard, honoring memories of loved ones lost to COVID. To be continued …

Tales from my Surfboard Part 3: The Drive-In

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It was one of those rare visits when we actually had the entire day to spend together. My visits were short due to my work schedule. I typically only had off from work from the time I got off Friday night until I went in for my next overnight shift Sunday night. 

Since Lily worked second shift, if I drove to the Cape Friday night, we would have Saturday morning together before she went to work. If I waited until Saturday morning to make the drive, we were like two ships passing in the night. Hello / goodbye / don’t forget the Red Sox are playing tonight.

On this particular visit, I made the drive Friday night and Lily had all day Saturday off. We did not have any set plan for the day other than traveling down Cape. We planned to drive the Old King’s Highway towards Provincetown. We did not actually expect to go to P-town on this visit. We were just going to load the surfboard on top of the Prius, throw the beach bags in the trunk and set out for the scenic drive to see where we ended up. 

That’s what we did.

Windows down, car CD player blaring, we enjoyed the lazy scenic drive. Traffic was light on 6A. We were not headed towards any tourist destinations. 

It was about mid-morning when we realized that in our excitement, we had headed out without breakfast. We had just wanted to get on the road to beat the heat of the day.

It was convenient then, when we saw a little sandwich board on the side of the road that had “Coffee Ahead!” written on it in chalk. The sun was shining, and there was a gentle breeze as we were close to the ocean. There were 3 signs for coffee ahead in total.

There was just a dirt parking lot near a small structure that looked a bit like a lemonade stand. It appeared to be staffed by a bunch of college kids on their summer break. This was their summer job in exchange for time on the Cape, we supposed. We both ordered delicious coffee and had muffins that were bigger than any muffin I’ve ever had. The muffins were so big, they could have been waffles in another life.

We enjoyed our stop in this little garden type area and carried on. Fortified with coffee and muffins, we decided to head to Truro and have a glass of wine before the weekend got busy with tasting.

The winery had just opened when we arrived. We had fun looking around the gift shop. We headed outside to the back veranda. There was a nice stone area with a beautiful garden and tables dotted about. We decided to forego tasting and just asked for one glass – a rose for Lily and the driest white on offer for me. We sat peacefully listening to music. There was a quartet of musicians in the garden playing music that made it feel like we were relaxing in a fairy place.

We stayed relaxing until just after lunch when it started to get busy with tasters coming in for the day. We had lunch at our little garden hideaway table. I remember it as one of the most delicious grilled sandwiches I had ever had. The sandwiches were grilled outside in the garden with us too. 

We purchased a case of wine, a few glasses and momentos, and loaded those in the trunk with our beach bags. I remember picking out some of the signature wines that were in glass bottles made like lighthouses. 

Lunch out of the way, we still had no agenda. Lily and I once again cruised down old 6A just to see what we could find. 

We found a little secluded beach just outside of Truro and set up a cozy little beach camp for a few hours. It was one of those perfect days. I remember it being a day full of sunshine, water, sand, and laughter. 

We just played on the beach until well into the evening when we were hungry again. That beach was almost like our own private oasis. Only a few other beachgoers were there that day. 

After a day in the sun, we headed down the Cape a little more looking for food again.

We did not have far to travel when we came across a little ice cream stand that also had food items – hot dogs and fries, things like that. We decided that worked and enjoyed our dinner surrounded by families with small children and groups of teens out for some summer fun. 

There was a bulletin board at the ice cream shop /hot dog stand where we happened to see the listing for the drive-in in Wellfleet. There wasn’t anything I really wanted to see, but one flick that Lily did. The drive-in offered two shows. The first show was some Godzilla-like thing followed by the picture that Lily wanted to see.

Of course, we headed to Wellfleet to the drive-in.

We tuned the radio to the station required to be able to hear the movie sound. I remember getting our beach blankets out of the trunk. We cuddled together in the backseat to watch the movies with our legs up on the headrests. It was cramped in the backseat of a Prius, but that was also what made it nice.

I don’t remember the movies much, although I do remember the movie that she had wanted to see. I made sure to buy the DVD of it and have seen it many times since. It was actually a book that had been made into a movie. I remember our only argument over seeing that particular movie was that I had said “but I haven’t read the book first.” Lily laughed and said it didn’t matter. We would watch it anyway and could read the book later. 

To this day, I think it’s the only time I’ve seen a movie before reading the book of something.

I remember how much fun we had at the drive-in that night. It was the most magical time.

I don’t even remember the drive home after. I remember we had the most perfect day. 

Of course, Sunday morning I had to leave for home so that I could go to work that day. 

The drive-in we went to is closed now. I will always remember that day as special.

To be continued with another Tale from My Surfboard.  

 

Tales from my Surfboard Part 2: The Window

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We did not set out to live a Melissa Etheridge song, it just kind of turned out that way. Of course, I had a key to the house. I arrived at Lily’s fairly late – it was about 2 am. I drove straight through to get there as soon as I got off work. 

I knew she was still up or had just gone to bed. She worked second shift and it takes time to wind down after work. That, and the Red Sox had won that night. I’m sure she had danced around the living room about that. 

Completely bypassing the front door, I went to the bedroom window, which was already partway open to let in the night air. It was August and the weather was hot. She lived a few blocks from the ocean, so the breeze was not as strong here, but there was enough to allow some relief from the summer heat. 

I opened the window the rest of the way and climbed through. I had been doing this for years. I used to use the door when I arrived, until the Big Commitment Fight. Since that, I always entered through the window when I first arrived.

We had been playing this game for about 6 years now. I had a key. I used to use the front door. Lily started talking about commitment and moving in together. We had been through this before. The last time she talked commitment, I moved out of state (there were other factors that went into that decision too). Yet, I still kept coming back. When someone is your soul mate, you are still drawn to them, no matter how scared you may be.

Well, the Big Commitment Fight, I stated that I would not move in. I didn’t have a reason, or at least, not a valid one. The reason was fear. I was young, I was broken, and I was terrified of commitment to something good. You see, I was much better at self-sabotage than I was at making things work.

Well, anyways, in the course of the Big Commitment Fight, Lily screamed at me “The next time you walk through that door, you better be prepared to stay.” Thus, the reason why I now climbed through the window when I first arrive. 

She knew I was coming. I always called or sent a text message ahead of time. Sometimes she had weeks notice. Sometimes I said “I’m at Trader Joe’s (in Hyannis) what do you want for dinner?” I always gave a heads up of my arrival. Even though I had a key and an open invitation, I didn’t want to abuse it. After all, I didn’t live there.

We were friends, first and foremost. We had this unspoken agreement. If one of us was with someone, we were just friends. The times when we were both “available,” we were with each other. I knew on this particular visit that Lily was alone.

I climbed through the window at 2 am. Lily stirred, so I whispered “hey it’s me,” and she went back to sleep. I crept to the kitchen and put my car keys on the table before settling in and getting ready for bed.

That was another part of our unspoken arrangement – the car keys. We always traded keys via the kitchen table. Lily’s Prius had the necessary roof rack and ties to transport my surfboard that my Corolla did not. Her Prius also had all the requisite stickers and tags that allowed me access to the beaches using a local vehicle. When I drove the Prius into beach parking, they never even checked my license to see I wasn’t a Massachusetts resident. They just noticed all the tags on the car checked out. Lily would take the keys to my New York Corolla so she had it for work and errands.

Keys on the table, I jumped in the shower quick before bed. I was careful not to get water all over the floor. One of Lily’s complaints every time I visit – “there is sand everywhere.” I didn’t want to make a bigger mess than necessary. 

Shower taken, I climbed into bed. Tomorrow was Saturday. I was going to get up and take my board to one of my favorite beaches. Lily had to work, but that was okay. We had the morning to spend together before she had to work. I fell asleep looking forward to tomorrow. 

To be continued …

Tales from my Surfboard Part 1: The End

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My surfboard is gone. No, it wasn’t stolen. No, I didn’t sell it. I’m not quite sure what happened to it, but it’s gone. I’m not delusional or amnesic.  I had the surfboard for over 20 years. I had bought it on the west coast in the late 90s. It came east in the back of a pickup truck. 

Living in a small New York apartment, there was no room for a surfboard where I was living. I am also in UPstate New York, which is landlocked. Of course, you can surf the Great Lakes during hurricane season when the wake is good and the water so cold you even freeze in a wet suit. However, it’s not good to do it with an ocean long board. The waves on the Great Lakes are nothing like the ocean. They are best handled by a short board.

The ocean long surfboard lived in the garage at my girlfriend’s house on Cape Cod. It was there for decades. Every time I went to the Cape, I would stop by, trade vehicles, and take my board out for some waves. I did some wind surfing too, depending on which beach I was at on the Cape.

So, what happened to it? Well, I’m pretty sure it’s been gone for over a year now. 

So you’re going to write a story about a missing surfboard? Sounds pretty boring to me. 

Wait! Don’t leave yet. It’s not just the surfboard. There’s a person too and a 20 year love affair. 

Sit back down. Stay with me here.

For this story, we need to start with the end. I know, stories usually start at the beginning. This one starts at the end. We will get to the beginning. The middle is pretty good too (the best, I think). Think of this as a surfer version of Pulp Fiction without guns.

April 2020

The phone rang at almost 3 am. My phone was set on night, so if it was ringing, then that meant it could only be one of two people. Suddenly, I was very awake.

“Are you ok?” I didn’t even say hello. I knew something was wrong.

Lily (*names have been changed to protect those living and dead) choked back a sob. “Mom’s in the hospital.”

It was very early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Lily’s mom, like mine, was in her 60s. With everything having shutdown in March 2020, Lily decided to leave Cape Cod and go to her mom’s house to help out. At the time, everyone was about helping the most vulnerable. Lily figured she could do the grocery shopping and errands for her mom. So she packed up her Prius and went back to Worchester to help her mom. 

At the time of the phone call, Lily had been at her mom’s house less than a week. This was before masks and before we fully realized that COVID is airborne.

I listened to Lily’s sobs and did the best I could to support her by phone. She was able to visit her mom in the hospital once before she passed. They had not yet stopped visitation of hospital patients. 

Her mom was only in the hospital for about 2 days before she died. Her dad died when she was little. So the only family she had left was a brother and his two young children. The four days after Lily’s mom’s death were so rough on her. We talked every day. We facetimed. She was also talking to her brother trying to make arrangements for her mom. Here she had come home to help, only to be too late.

It was about five days after Lily’s mom died that she didn’t feel well either. 

You know, this is hard to write. 

That’s why we are starting at the end of the story. We will get the hard stuff out of the way first so that we can get to the good stuff.

Well, Lily also died of COVID less than 2 weeks after her mom. Her brother called to tell me. I was one of the last people to speak to her. We facetimed while she was in ICU within 24 hours of her death. COVID is a painful way to die.

I just lost my best friend.

Lily was cremated. In August, her brother held a scattering of ashes ceremony. I “participated” by phone. This was August 2020. Her brother ended up having to take care of everything both for their mom and for Lily.

Lily’s house was sold. So, I’m pretty sure my surfboard was sold too. I’m not sure. I didn’t think about the surfboard until this year. I’m not going to ask. Without Lily there on the Cape, it’s inconsequential.

It’s the memories attached to that surfboard that need to keep living. 

I only thought about the surfboard this year because Lily’s brother kept in touch with me. He had two small children under age 10. He had a girl and a boy, ages 6 and 8. They both died of COVID this year. 

So, the ending is the hardest part. It’s not pretty and it’s not fun. 

You know what they say about the dates on a tombstone? The birth and death dates? It’s that dash in the middle that is the important part. It’s the life you lived in the middle of your birth and your death. 

Now that the hard part is over, part 2 will look at the beginning of the story. Or maybe the middle? That’s where the good stuff lies. When you just ride the waves. There is a love story in that dash. 

To be continued … 

House-iversary 3

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Today we celebrate our 3 year anniversary in our house. They say everything happens for a reason, and I am 100% convinced that the reason for this house is to keep us all together. At first, it was Jude, Simon and I. Now, Jolene has been with us for a year and a half too.

I like the house, but the neighborhood is horrid. I know, I know. Real estate is all about location, location, location. If I ever tried to sell this house, I would have to do a bad neighbor disclosure. I am a little mad that the sellers did not do the bad neighbor disclosure when I bought the house. However, I don’t think they failed to disclose out of malice. The person who had been living in this house passed away. The people who sold me this house had inherited it. They did not live in it, so I am sure they did not realize how truly bad the neighbors are and that they would have to do the bad neighborhood disclosure.

Despite being in one of the worst neighborhoods in the area, I do like the house. So far, the cats and I have managed to shelter-in-place here safe from covid. I am convinced that the purpose of this house is to keep us all together and well. 

As a homeowner, I have control over who comes into the house to provide service. The HVAC company I used in prior years do not wear a mask, so you can be sure I will be using someone else this year. As a homeowner, I have control over those decisions that you cannot control in an apartment. I’m sure if we were still in the apartment we would have had maintenance people in and no control over the whole “wear a mask” issue.

As much as I would like to sell this house and move due to the bad neighborhood, that is not possible due to the first time home buyer program I used. I do not have $10,000 to pay back the grant. Plus, with three cats, where would we go? Apartments do not accept pets.

I am going to die in this house. I don’t know when that will be, but I know I will die in this house. I will never pay it off. 

If I manage to outlive the cats, I will sell the house and move. Right now this house is the only thing that keeps us together and safe. Safe is a relative term – we are safe from covid, but we are not safe from the neighbors.

To be honest, I do not feel safe in this house due to the neighbors. The loud music, which I have come to learn is someone with a drum set and no insulation, continues. There are at least three houses of Proud Boys. There is gunfire on a regular basis. It is quite possible I will survive the pandemic only to be shot by one of the neighbors, whether intentionally or accidentally. 

For now, it is home, and it is all we have.

I am so thankful that on house-iversary 3, we are all together and healthy. Earlier this year when I lost my job, we faced a true reality of being homeless again. We are just one disaster away from losing it all. 

Happy House-iversary 3. My wish is that this is truly the last forever home for all three cats. All I need to do is care for them and keep us all together. I am so grateful for this house that is keeping us together and safe not only for the rest of our lives, but through a global pandemic.

Bug Out Kit

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We are pros at sheltering in place. After years of snowstorms in an area that consistently lands in one of the top three snowiest places on the east coast of the USA and spending the past year and a half in a pandemic, we know how to stay home.

I have always had a bug out bag ready. The bug out bag has always been mostly for my cats and contained only a few items for 1-2 days. Now that we have sheltered in place for a year and a half and continue to do so, I am coming to realize how attached we are to this house. We would be in real trouble if we had to leave.

A few weeks ago, a tornado touched down about 9 miles from our house. While I typically ignore tornado warnings, I took this one seriously, as it was the first time I heard the tornado siren in the village actually go off. 

Jude and Jolene went down to the basement right away. They thought it was a game. Simon hid. I had to search for Simon and grab him to take him to the basement. We were down there for about an hour. At the time of the warning, they were unsure where the tornadoes were going to touch down. Luckily, the closest they came to us was 9 miles.

It was an eye opening experience as to how unprepared we are if we had to leave.

Of course, priority number one is the cats. It is aways the cats. I will just grab them and go. Everything else be damned.

I decided to redo our bug out kit. One thing I have learned in this pandemic is that for my cats, I am their world. If something happens to me, they have no one. 

I am taking the bug out kit seriously and ensuring that there are items in there for all of us.

Initially, I was just going to repack the backpack. If we have to leave, I can just throw the cats and the backpack in the car and go. If we had to leave on foot, I could wear the back pack, and would struggle with the cats. I would have two put two in one carrier and one in another, but it is doable.

My neighbors are Proud Boys. They are very violent and disruptive. They have threatened with guns. They retaliate if you complain about any of their activities. I do not feel safe living here, but unfortunately we are stuck here for financial reasons. 

With my horrible neighbors, I got to thinking – what if we had to leave and could not take the car? Could I do it? I could, but with great difficulty.

I decided to get a camping wagon. 

The camping wagon is our new bug out unit.

If something bad happens, I will grab the cats and throw them in the car. If there is time, I will pull the wagon out to the car also to load everything and we can go to safety.

Anytime we have a snowstorm or other emergency, I know to keep the gas tank in the car at least half full at all times. Since we have been living in an emergency for a year and a half, I keep the gas tank in the car at least half full all of the time now in case we need to leave.

I decided to use a wagon for our new bug out kit because if we have to leave and cannot take the car, it will be easier for me to just pull the wagon. I have all of our supplies in it. I can also out the cats in their car carriers in the wagon. It is going to be easier for me physically then trying to wear a backpack and deal with their carriers. I can just pull a wagon.

I also “upped” our provisions. Due to my multiple food allergies, I have 5 days worth of food for me. There is 3 weeks worth of food for the cats due to my experience in trying to get their food the past year and a half sheltering in place in the pandemic, 

With our bug out wagon, we should be able to go 5 days before needing help if we had to leave the house on foot. 

I’m not a prepper and I am not normally this paranoid about things. However, with my Proud Boy neighbors becoming increasingly violent and confrontational, I feel like we need to be ready to leave for our own safety in case things escalate. 

It looks like a lot, but I have medical supplies, two changes of clothes (in case I get wet), all cat supplies including a cat pan. Water is only two gallons, but I am looking into water purification options. The cat litter is in the trunk of the car. 

It’s not perfect. I’m hoping we never have to use it. I’m sure that if I DIDN’T create a bug out kit, we would be in need of one. So hopefully with our bug out wagon, nothing will happen, and we will be able to continue our shelter in place safely. 

Do you have an emergency go kit? Have you included your pet(s) in your go plans? Half of the stuff in our wagon are for the cats. 

Stay safe, everyone.

Sandy’s 76 Chevy

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There are some memories that we try to hold onto and some memories that we would like to forget. I like to think of the forgetting process as pruning my brain cells. I want to get rid of all of the bad stuff so that at the end of my life, only the good memories remain.

Then there are the times when memories return unbidden. There is no real reason for why a forgotten memory has returned and sometimes it lacks context. I had that experience the other day when I took the car out for a drive. I was having a trying day and just needed to get out of the house. 

Of all things, and of all people, the memory was of Sandy’s 76 Chevy. At first blush, it had to do with the car – not the one I was driving, but Sandy’s 76 chevy. You see, the key had broken off in the ignition of the vehicle. There was a portion of the key permanently stuck there. So every time we got in the car to go someplace, Sandy would reach under the seat for a screw driver. The screw driver would help turn the ignition to turn on the car. Then the screwdriver would lie on the floor. We would drive around with a keyless car.

At least, the car did not have the traditional danging cluttered keychain with paraphernalia that was so popular in the 80s and early 90s.

But the memory of Sandy’s 76 chevy was much more than just driving around in a car with no key.

I was 11. Sandy was 15. The driving age at the time was 15. Of course, Sandy was driving. She had a baby that just turned one and needed to be able to drive the baby to its appointments and herself to work. Sandy’s parents kicked her out when she got pregnant. So, like most of us of that generation, Sandy started working when she was 13. I consider myself privileged in that I was able to wait until age 14 to start working.

Sandy was a friend of my cousin. We were “paired together” by the adults in our life. The idea was that by saddling Sandy down with me there would be someone with her to be sure she was taking care of the baby. The idea was that by saddling me with Sandy I would get the message to not get pregnant. At age 11, I wasn’t even sure how that happened.

This was the day and age when victims of sexual abuse were always blamed. It you were being sexually abused, it was your fault. You were “promiscuous.” The fear was always pregnancy. Even if you were too young to understand the abuse, you were always framed as someone who didn’t mind adults and was at risk of becoming even more of a liability than you already were just by existing. That’s what it was like growing up in a small town in the 1980s.

So, Sandy and I were hanging out in an effort to teach each other something.

Sandy spent a lot of time driving around trying to calm the baby. That meant we spent a lot of time in the car driving around, singing and talking. The car was littered with debris. There were food wrappers everywhere, and if you rummaged around, there were a bunch of tapes in there too. We would pop a tape in the deck and sing along to Bon Jovi and Poison. We just kept driving until the baby fell asleep.

Sandy would drive us on old back country roads. Even though Sandy was 15 and old enough to drive, she got sick of driving all the time. Sometimes she would let me drive. Yes, it was illegal, but we were 11 and 15, alone in the country. Who was there to care?

I did not like driving much at the time. I hated being responsible for such a large vehicle with Sandy and the baby in it. The car seemed huge to me. It could have been just because I was 11 and was small.

Sandy had also picked up the habit of smoking. She had started smoking at age 10. Back in the 80s, you could purchase cigarettes from vending machines. I remember being sent into bars and stores to purchase cigarettes from vending machines. They cost 90 cents. You would drop in the coins, then pull the lever under the ones you wanted and they would drop down below. 

When Sandy was low on cash, which was always, we would stop at some off-the-path roadside bar. Sandy would run in to grab an ashtray. Among all the other debris in the car, there was always bobby pins. The bobby pins were usually connected to the scrunchies that were floating around.

Sandy would take the butts from the ashtrays and determine which discards still had enough tobacco left in them to be smoked. The stubs were way to small to hold without being burned. This is where the bobby pins came in. She would put the bobby pin on the stub to hold it so that the last of the tobacco could be smoked. This was a common practice of the time. Many kids in the 80s started smoking by taking their parents’ discarded butts and using bobby pins to smoke the ends of them.

Sandy worked at a local fast food place. She took the baby to a babysitter while she worked. Thankfully, I was never asked to babysit. The adults just wanted me to spend time with Sandy to see how hard it was to be a teenage mom. Although, they neglected to tell me anything about how babies were made or how to prevent one. Not to mention, I was not willingly engaging in any activities to produce one. I did get the message that I never wanted to be a mom. Being a mom was a very bad thing. Message received.

While preventing teen pregnancy may have been the intended message of my time with Sandy, what I remember the most is the car. I remember driving around in the car with no keys singing along to the cassette deck. 

They don’t make cars that you can drive around with no keys anymore.

Technically, they have cars now with push button starts, but it’s not the same. The cars with push button starts have a lot of technology that enables them to work. Sandy’s 76 chevy was a car that would start if you just fiddled with a screwdriver. Do a little turn, make the connection, and off we would go. It was the type of car you would just drive until it died. Then when it died, you would beat it up a bit until it started working again, and drive it some more.

Of all memories to arrive unbidden, I received the one of Sandy’s 76 chevy. I have no idea whatever happened to Sandy or the baby. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I remember that car.

A Minimalist in Hell

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Some of the many sound blocking panels installed in the office.

 

There are at least four houses of people on my street who have quit their jobs since the US government started giving a monthly stipend (universal basic income or UBI) to people with children. Since then, the level of noise and chaos on my street has increased exponentially. 

As if living next to a group of Proud Boy terrorists was not enough, there is a house about four doors down who has decided to purchase a drum set. They have not done any sound proofing to their home. They think that it is okay to drum full bore from 8 am to 8 pm. The local police do nothing – our noise ordinance goes from 11 pm to 7 am. There have been at least five other houses who have complained of this loud music during the day. 

The loud drumming is causing trauma to veteran and civilian survivors of large-scale events. It is causing ears to bleed. It is causing windows to crack and break. It is causing people who work from home to either lose their jobs or be put on probation because you can’t work when people can’t hear you because you are being overpowered by a drum set.

The village code officer refuses to do anything. They say there is no noise ordinance that covers this, even if this one house is terrorizing not only all the other houses on the street, but houses on neighboring streets as well. (Yes, it is that loud.) There is no talking to the house in question to knock it off – when you go over there to try to talk to them, they instantly shove a gun in your face. I, for one, do not want to be shot in addition to being terrorized non-stop in my own home by deafening sound.

The only recourse we have is to file a lawsuit. Lawsuits take money and who wants to make a court appearance during a deadly pandemic? I’m not willing to die for this. The gun waving is bad enough.

I have been reading up on sound proofing to try to figure out how to block the noise from my office so that I can work. Note that my office is on the far side of the house away from the offending house. The offending house is also four doors away. (Yes, they are that loud.)

Actual sound proofing done by a handyman or contractor costs thousands of dollars. Who has that kind of money in a deadly pandemic? We are still struggling with food shortages. 

I have been reading up on DIY sound proofing. Most suggestions to block the noise suggest things I have already done – close all windows and doors, use heavy drapes to block noise. I do this anyway to block light and heat to try to keep the house cooler in the summer.

Other suggestions for DIY sound proofing are to put a ceiling to floor bookcase against the wall and fill it to try to block the sound. The basic premise is to fill the entire room with stuff so that the offending noise does not echo around.

I am a minimalist in hell.

I have purposefully been trying to empty the upstairs of my house. It is difficult for me to do stairs safely. I have been trying to get all of my belongings on the first floor with me to reduce the number of times I have to do the stairs. I am a fall hazard and fall on the stairs frequently. My goal is to have empty rooms upstairs. 

There is one exception. My office is upstairs. This is so that my workspace is separate from my living space so that I have a positive work life balance. Now that I am 100% a remote worker, it is critical to have that distinction between home and work. 

I actually have divided one room into two different work spaces. There is a work space for each job. This helps me with transitioning mentally from one job to the other. There is also a distinction in that one job I am an employee, where the other job, I am the boss / an independent contractor. One job provides me with their equipment that I must use. The other job I have to provide all of the equipment.

Aside from the office and the bathroom, the goal is to empty the upstairs.

The idea of having to fill my office with stuff in a futile effort to block noise is driving me completely nuts. My goal is to empty rooms, not fill them up. 

I am trying to figure out what I can put in the office to block sound. I have purchased sound blocking panels – they do nothing against the onslaught of noise we are experiencing. I have put my container of sewing fabric in the office. I have put my one container of childhood memories in the office. I am doing what I can to block the sound. 

However, trying to fill up that room is driving me almost as nuts as the noise. Except for the bleeding ears and damage to my hearing. (Yes, I have seen a doctor who says my hearing is being damaged by this.)

The best solution would be for these horrid neighbors to stop making the noise. I am not, after all, the only house that is being bothered by it. However, stopping the noise would be way too easy. These people are so self-centered, they do not realize there is an entire village that is being terrorized.

The village office said they had sent a letter to the offending house a few weeks ago. However, the people who live in the house making all the noise can’t read. So sending them a letter does nothing. A phone call or some sort of consequence for their action might go further. However, the fact that they constantly come out and wave the guns around is something to worry about also.

I’m just a minimalist in hell trying to figure out how to block noise by filling up a room. My goal for my house is to empty the upstairs rooms, not fill them up.

I wish people would remember to be human and that there are other humans on this planet too. Some of us are right next door.

 

It Takes An (Online) Village

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It’s been three weeks now since I’ve lost my job. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. After working for 28 years, this is the first time I have ever been unemployed. It is a direct threat to my life, health, safety and ability to care for my cats and keep my family together.

I have no income. I have not been able to get through to NYS unemployment to file a claim. Their web site continuously crashes. Their phone has an automated message saying “high call volume” that hangs up on you. I call unemployment over 100 times a day. I put the phone on speaker and keep hitting redial while I try to look for and apply for jobs.

I am not eligible for any pandemic mortgage relief due to my student loans. I am also not eligible for any help from social services because I am a single adult with no human children. I am not eligible for social security or disability because I am not “disabled enough” to qualify for any of those services either. I am one of those people who just fall through the cracks and is 100% screwed in this pandemic. Thousands of people like me have died already, and who knows when I will be next.

Losing my job was the absolute worst thing to ever happen to me in my life. It is very possible that I will lose the house, the cats and I will be separated, and I will die this year. I honestly don’t expect to live to see age 43 if something does not improve soon.

I even reached out to local legislators about being able to reach unemployment to file a claim. There is nothing they can do to help. I am one of the “great unwashed” who is either going homeless or dead in this pandemic. I am just another number. 

This past year, I have lost many of my friends and my family to COVID. I can count on one hand the people I knew before the pandemic who are still alive now. 

This past Tuesday, when I opened my local newspaper, I knew every single person in the obituary section. Every single person. There are some days when the obituaries take up an entire page. It should not be this way when I am in my 40s.

As you all know and I have blogged about many times, I loathe social media, especially Facebook. I canceled my Facebook about 5 years ago now and never looked back. I have no regrets about deleting Facebook.

However, I have been extremely isolated in this pandemic. I have lost so many people. So last fall, I decided to try Twitter as a form of social media. I refuse to use Facebook. 

On Twitter, we have been warmly welcomed into the Pet Twitter family. I see happy photos of dogs, cats, fish, bunnies, chincillas and other pets. There are two people on Twitter who I know in real life.

One of those real life people is my best friend from childhood. When I tweeted that I lost my job, this friend sprang into action and set up a GoFundMe for me.

I have a basic idea of what GoFundMe is. I have donated to them a few times before. Twenty dollars here or there to help people who I knew were in genuine need. I never would have thought of setting one up for myself. That first week after losing my job, I was in shock and was stunned.

My friend was able to use our social networks to fully fund my GoFundMe. The GoFundMe paid my mortgage and utilities for the month of May while I look for jobs and try to unsuccessfully file an initial claim for unemployment.

I was also just contacted by GoFundMe itself. Not only was my campaign for May fully funded, but the GoFundMe organization chose me for a micro-grant from their Basic Necessities Fund. I will be putting that money towards June expenses.

I have been lucky in that I have interviewed for two jobs so far. However, the job market is extremely competitive right now because so many people are out of work and searching for jobs. Even though I have interviewed, the chances of being hired are very slim due to the competition. 

Even if I was hired now, I would not see any income from a new job until probably July. In the meantime, I have heard that it can take 4-6 months to actually get through to unemployment to file an initial claim. It can then take another few months after that before you actually receive any money. A lot of people have ended up homeless because they have gone 4-6 months with no income before they are able to file an unemployment claim. 

I hope I am not one of them.

I am very grateful to the online community and to everyone who contributed to my GoFundMe to pay my mortgage and utilities for the month of May. As much as I truly appreciate the help, this is not sustainable. I cannot have a GoFundMe pay all of my bills for the 6 months it takes to get through to unemployment to file an initial claim. 

I really need to find a job and I know that. I update people everyday about how many jobs I have applied for and how many times I have tried to reach unemployment. I am averaging 10-20 job applications a week and over 600 phone calls a week to unemployment.

Anyone who says that people are sitting at home on unemployment and don’t want to work should be shot. I’m not joking. First, many people are not receiving unemployment because we can’t get through to them to file. Second, no job is worth your life. I can tell you right now, after losing now over TEN people to COVID this past year, I am not going to take a job that puts me at risk of COVID. 

My cats are the only family I have left. I am the only family they have. Without me, they will be homeless and separated. I have to keep this house to keep us together. I have to be able to outlive them to take care of them.

Someone suggested I sell the house. Well, then I would be homeless. Rent here is over $400 a month more than my mortgage. That is if I rent a small room in a house with 8 or 9 other people. Plus, no rentals here take pets. I cannot be separated from the cats. 

I cannot buy another house. First, I am unemployed. With no income, I cannot afford the one I have. Second, I will never get approved for another mortgage in my life. I can’t even refinance the one I have to get a lower interest rate. I almost did not get my mortgage due to my student loans. It took a Regional Manager to approve my mortgage and they only did so because I was in a student loan forgiveness program. Now that I am no longer working for a non-profit, I am no longer in the student loan forgiveness program. 

If I lose this house, the cats will be separated and have to live somewhere else. I will die.

That is how dire our situation. I am not exaggerating.

Even though I reach out to unemployment over 100 times a day (167 phone calls on Thursday alone), I am not hopeful I will get through. I honestly do not think I will see any money at all from unemployment. I think I have a better chance of getting a job first. Honestly, I think I have a better chance of getting COVID and dying than I do getting any help from unemployment.

It has taken an online village to get me through the month of May.

As I said, asking people to help me each month is not sustainable and I know that. It is only a matter of time how long we can hold out until we end up homeless and dead.

I am really hoping to find a job soon. Even if I find one this month, I won’t see any real income (a full month’s income) until July.

To the online village that has been helping me, I cannot thank you enough for all you have done. I hope I have been able to express how truly dire our situation is right now. Thank you for giving us another month together alive. I’m not sure how long we will be able to hang on or what will happen.

I am grateful for every single day I get with the cats. They are all I have and I am all that they have.

Thank you to our online village for giving us this time together. 

Hopefully things come together soon. 

Maybe NYS unemployment should hire me to answer their phone. I definitely do not have the expertise to fix their website.