The more attentive readers may recall that in October, the Drunken Housewife successfully abandoned her small children and Sober Husband to go away for a weekend of adult pleasures in the hills of Mendocino. How the old thing got there has been described,
but the rest of the story has not yet been told.
So after four and half hours of horrendous, parking lot-like conditions on the highway, my beloved acquaintance Kimmie and I arrived as night and a light rain were falling. I set up my tent in a most haphazard manner, as nearby fellow partiers/campers inquired, "Does that look right to you? I don't think that looks right" and "Are you sure you're doing that right?"
"So long as I have my little plastic hole to crawl into, I'll be fine," I said optimistically. Ever the dutiful New England Puritan at heart (only so far as work ethic is concerned, not so far as blue laws, drowning witches, and anti-nudity laws go), I was feeling guilty about having arrived late for my volunteer shift in the kitchen. I trotted off and spent some quality time chopping massive quantities of cilantro for the redoubtable Chef Juke, a computer man who spends his free time cooking for large groups of people. Dinner for 150? No problem for Juke!
I had a lovely evening, but it was so much tamer than I'd expected. This camping weekend is somewhat legendary for its outdoor debauchery: porn clowns, whipping posts, adult party favors, naked hot tubbers roaming off into the woods together, etc... This time, though, it was what one might call "brass monkey weather": it was freezing out (literally). After dinner, everyone hunched up by the fire or went off to bed early.
So I traipsed off to bed, crawling into my sleeping bag sober and alone, in flannel pajamas, a hooded sweatshirt, and heavy wool socks. I pulled a couple of blankets over my sleeping bag and curled up.... to not go to sleep. I was so frigging cold and miserable. I slept less than 2 hours total, dozing off occasionally but then being awoken by my own shivering. I have a lovely three seasons tent, in which I had happily slept before during a snowstorm in Utah, but on that occasion I was delightfully accompanied by the Sober Husband (who was at that point a Less-than-sober Boyfriend). It turns out that this tent can be heated up by two people's body heat, but one voluptuous Drunken Housewife alone cannot create enough heat.
In the wee hours I gave up and crawled out, brushed my teeth, grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine and a couple of Red Bulls from my cooler, and curled up in my camping chair, covered by blankets, with these fine beverages and a good novel. I heard a car drive by at an angry clip, leaving the camping trip, but otherwise, it was quiet, other than the occasional rattling snores heard from nearby RVs. I finished my Mark Haddon novel and my Red Bulls in chilly majesty.
Gradually everyone else got up, and I got dressed and wandered down to the center camp for coffee and breakfast. I found some fellow parents, Abs and Toad, also flying solo for the weekend. I poured them each a cup of sparkling wine and proposed a toast: "We are the alpha parents!" Toad joined in: "The beta parents are home with the zeta kids!" At this, a childless acquaintance standing by chastised me, pointing out how Toad's wife was likely to react at hearing this (no one was concerned about how the Sober Husband or Abs' husband would react to this. Oh, how fearsome Abs and I must be that our poor husbands are assumed to be used to submitting to our wills).
I told everyone that it had been my first night sleeping alone in a tent by myself and it was probably going to be my last. "I either need to check into a hotel tonight or have a one night stand," I said repeatedly. The reactions to this fell into two categories: people who spent the night with one or more significant others (there was at least one "triad" in attendance) or in sturdy RVs, who were astonished to hear that I was such a pathetic weakling as to have been bothered by the cold when they themselves enjoyed such a wonderful night's sleep, and those who were in tents by themselves or with skinny companions who throw off little heat, who had also been miserable. The most satisfactory of these responses came from my friend Bridget, who it turns out was the driver of the early morning angry car. She slept so little and was so miserable that she set out to leave at the break of dawn, but after leaving, she reconsidered and came back. This made me feel like less of a outdoors weakling (after all, I'm from Maine originally and grew up in a home where the heater was set at 42 degrees, but then I was accustomed to sharing my bed with a large dog and several cats, and in general I was used to winter suffering).
I had a lovely day chatting with people. I had my very first tarot reading, from the amazing Epiphany. I took a long walk. But all the while, I was teetering back and forth about leaving. I intended to leave before sunset, but the delightful M talked me out of it and served me a yummy basilico cocktail. However, finally the sun was getting low... and I felt so guilty over not having talked to Lola on the phone (the older Iris is so independent that I was sure she was fine, but Lola had been very opposed to her mother leaving)... so I decided to go. I really couldn't face another night of shivering alone in my tent, and I wanted to get into celphone range. I quickly flung my things into the car and drove off.
While the sun was still up, I did fine navigating the tricky intersections and turns in the hills. I found a great local radio station, and I congratulated myself upon my wonderful sense of direction. This, of course, was the kiss of doom. The next thing I knew, it was darkdarkdark, and I was lost. I spent the next two hours driving around slowly trying to find my way to the town of Willits.
For the first hour or so, my equanimity was perfect. After all, I had food, water, sparkling wine, and a sleeping bag with me. If I had to spend the night in my car, I would have no real problems.
Over the second hour, I slowly started to feel stressed. I was in some pretty remote hills, and I started to feel sorry for myself. Finally I drove near a house with plenty of lights on, and I decided to stop for directions. As soon as I pulled into the driveway, a pack of hounds started barking maniacally. I decided not to walk up to the house, since the last thing I wanted was to provoke a pack of dogs. A man who evidently had quite a buzz on wandered out of the house to see what was going on. He found the novelty of a lost woman quite intriguing and he would have liked to help, but he was incapable of giving good directions. "You'll want to go left, then right, then go across the bridge and take the third left, but watch out for the Y..." I asked him if he knew any of the street names, and he didn't. His directions were entirely incomprehensible and unhelpful, but I got one thing of value from him: I asked him to just point towards Willits, and I drove away in that direction, planning to stop again at the next suitable house.
It took me over half an hour of stressful driving in the dark in the middle of nowhere to find another house which looked reasonable to stop at. I only wanted to go to a house with plenty of lights on, as I didn't want to disturb anyone (people go to bed earlier in rural areas, as I know all too well from my own childhood), and I didn't want to get cornered by dogs at a house where the owners were out. Finally I found a normal-looking house with both the telltale glow of a large television set and several lights on, and I pulled in. From the road, it looked like there was a pleasant front porch with a front door, but when I walked up, I saw that the porch had been blocked off, which seemed strange, but I overlooked it and walked around to the back of the house and knocked. A man came to the door. At this point, I began to feel self-conscious about my clothes: I hadn't changed before setting off in a hurry, and I was wearing a very low-cut zebra striped shirt over a push up bra. Clearly it was a fascinating novelty for this country dweller to find a middle-aged woman dressed like a skank at his door at night. I pulled my neckline up self-consciously. This fellow didn't feel like just handing out directions until he'd wrapped his mind around how I'd come to be there. "Where's your car? You aren't on foot, are you? You were camping?"
Finally he got to the point of offering me directions, and his were excellent. It turns out I had blundered near town, although it was still unpopulated where I was. The man, so amused and bemused over my arrival, became quite solicitous and offered that I come in to warm up, get something to drink, etc... All I wanted was a hotel, the security of knowing where I was, and celphone service, but I did ask if I could use the bathroom. My host pointed the way and then disappeared into the front of his house.
It was clearly a bachelor home, messy in that way of a man who lives alone, and I felt fine until I saw a side door, which had several shotguns up against it. Usually in hunting homes, shotguns are kept in racks or in a gun closet, so these guns looked more like they were there to defend that particular door. Then the bathroom itself seemed weird: unlike the rest of the house, it was large and clinically clean, brightly lit and weirdly aseptic. "This must be where he disposes of his victims,", I thought. I scurried out of the bathroom and then saw a large number of guns leaning up around the very same door I'd gone into. I've grown up around guns, but never have I been in a home which seemed so clearly set up to annihilate anyone who ventured to the door. I turned my head in the direction my host had gone, but all I saw was a large screen TV with a closeup of a man having his brains blown out on it. "Thanks so much, I'm on my way now!" I called cheerily, and I scuttled quickly to my car before my new acquaintance, whom I was viewing right now as a potential serial killer (but also a possible good ally in any future zombie wars) could get back into the same room. As I practically ran past the front porch, the fact that it had been blocked off now seemed ominous and significant.
I calmed down in my car as the gun enthusiast's directions proved excellent, and soon I was in Willits. The directions were so good that I wondered if I had misjudged this fellow, and I contemplated whether, since I had nothing else to do, I should go back and watch television with him.
I succeeded in checking into the hotel recommended by my friend M., a western-themed hotel, where I was disappointed to be assigned to the Post Office room rather than the Saloon. I talked on the phone to the children (where I learned to no surprise that Lola had indeed been crying for me). The Sober Husband, upon hearing that I was in Willits, announced to the children that Mommy would be home in a few hours! "NO!" I shouted over the sounds of celebration. "My nerves are too shot to drive! I only had two hours sleep! I'm not safe to drive! I told you I'm at a hotel!" Instead I curled up with Scarlett Thomas's "PopCo" and a bag of wasabi peas; I woke up just before check-out time at 11:00 AM. I got home the next day in the early afternoon.